Mandatory wage hikes for immigrant workers delayed
by Billy Gunn
7:44 AM, Nov. 23, 2011

Federal government-mandated wage increases for seasonal immigrant workers have been delayed until Jan. 1 after President Barack Obama signed appropriations legislation that prevents the U.S. Labor Department from spending money needed to implement and administer the increases.

The wage increases were to go into effect Nov. 30.

The law, signed by Obama on Nov. 18, "prevents (the Labor Department) from using appropriated funds to implement, administer or enforce" the wage hikes, Labor Department attorney Geoffrey Forney wrote in court papers filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.

In a Nov. 2 hearing, businesses that use seasonal foreign labor -- forestry, seafood processing, carnival operators and others -- asked U.S. District Judge Dee Drell in Alexandria to invalidate the way Labor Department officials came up with the new rates, or at least postpone the Nov. 30 implementation.

Drell has not ruled on the request.

"We're encouraged" by the one-month delay, "but we're still on pins and needles," said Buck Vandersteen, who heads the Louisiana Forestry Association that with other business interests filed a lawsuit in Drell's court on Sept. 7.

They want Drell to make the Labor Department revert to the 2008 methodology that set immigrant wage levels.

The Labor Department in January 2011 wrote new wage rules that greatly increase hourly rates that in many cases would pay more than American workers now make. Implementation of the new rates has been delayed a few times since the summer.

"What we need Congress to do is permanently abolish that rule," Vandersteen said.

Business representatives at the Nov. 2 hearing said the government-forced wage hikes, in some cases more than 100 percent, would hurt their bottom line or put them out of business.

Government and union attorneys are fighting the lawsuit in Alexandria, and are asking Drell to transfer the case in his court to a federal court in Pennsylvania where a judge earlier this year ordered Labor officials to speed up the implementation.

Seasonal workers from countries such as Mexico work in the United States for months each year in the H-2B visa program. Immigration officials cap the number of H-2B visas issued each year at around 66,000, and businesses must apply for the workers. ... 1/1002/rss