[2/12/19] H2A Program Oversight

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A measure in the Washington state Legislature would establish more oversight for a federal program that allows farms to recruit guest workers from other countries. The bill would create an office of compliance for the guest worker program, known as H-2A, and require employers to pay a fee for worker applications. The Employment Security Department requested the bill, saying the program has grown more than 1-thousand percent over the past decade but has been unable to get more funding from the federal government. Rosalinda Guillen, head of farmworkers’ rights group Community to Community Development, says H-2A workers face retaliation for protesting working conditions.

Guillen says her organization receives complaints from guest workers about pay and poor housing and labor conditions. She notes that workers aren’t able to form a union and protest because employers can send them back home for doing so. E-S-D expects 30-thousand H-2A workers in Washington state this year. Ryan Ogburn is the director of visa services with WAFLA, an Olympia-based farm labor organization. He says this measure will create unnecessary regulations for farmers.

12th District Representative Keith Goehner said the H-2A program is critical to our area and that he feels the Employment Security Department will be able to take a look at the issue.

SB 5438, pertaining the H2A guest worker program had a hearing Thursday in the Committee on Labor and Commerce.