A construction-trades division of the AFL-CIO is condemning as “outrageous” a U.S. Senate move aimed at making it less costly for companies to hire temporary and foreign workers.
A Senate panel on Thursday approved an amendment to hold up funding for two Department of Labor rules, affecting the H-2B guest worker program; critics of the rules say they are burdensome for small businesses and the construction industry.
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 19-11 to “reserve” funding for rules that would increase H-2B guest-worker wages and require employers to advertise for U.S. workers up to 21 days prior to the start date, among other provisions. The funding would be put on hold for one year while debate over the Department of Labor’s budget is ongoing.
Offered by U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the amendment to block the rules “will now facilitate the ability of employers to import foreign workers into the U.S. under the H-2B guest worker program to do construction work at below prevailing wages, thereby undercutting local standards,” the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department (BCTD) said in a media statement on the measure.
|Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)|
The non-union Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), on the other hand, voiced “strong support” for Shelby’s amendment.
In a letter to Shelby, ABC vice president, federal affairs Geoffrey Burr said the group supports “simplification and expansion of the H-2B visa program, which provides American businesses and the construction industry the ability to bring in workers to perform skilled and low-skilled tasks in non-agricultural industries.”
Burr said the H-2B program has been a “target” of the Department of Labor, which is seeking to enforce a rule that would increase costs for employers that “far exceeds rational economic levels.”
The ABC is a national association with 74 chapters representing 22,000 merit shop construction and construction-related firms.
But the BCTD, an alliance of 13 national and international unions that collectively represent more than 2 million skilled craft professionals in the U.S. and Canada, said Shelby’s proposal is a slap at the hard-hit construction-industry workforce.
“This is nothing short of outrageous,” said Sean McGarvey, president of the Building and Construction Trades Department. “At a time when roughly 1.4 million American construction workers are unemployed, Senator Shelby deems it appropriate to make it even easier to import foreign construction workers. Where is the shame? Where is the outrage? Does he truly believe there are no American workers willing and able to fill these jobs?”
Added McGarvey: “The Shelby Amendment has effectively incentivized the importation of foreign workers into an already devastated U.S. construction industry. He is simply rubbing salt into the wounds of American construction workers.”
According to Senator Shelby’s official website, the Department of Labor provisions would “crush U.S. businesses that rely heavily on temporary, seasonal immigrant workers.”
In a statement, Shelby said, “Many industries, including those in seafood, timber, and landscaping, depend on the Department of Labor’s H-2B visa program to find temporary, seasonal workers. The seasonal nature of these industries means that these businesses routinely face shortages of local workers during their peak season. The H-2B program not only keeps these businesses open, but also contributes to the creation of additional, year-round jobs for local workers by ensuring a successful operation.
“However, under the new rules proposed by the Department of Labor, many small businesses that use the H-2B program will not be able to afford these regulations and will ultimately close. This will result in more American job losses, at a time when our economy cannot afford it.
“This is another case of out-of-touch Washington bureaucrats sitting behind a desk implementing regulations that are prohibitively expensive and logistically impossible.”