Mikulski presses White House on guest workers
Unable to get a response from the Department of Labor about a new, higher wage requirement for seasonal foreign workers employed in Eastern Shore seafood plants, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said Friday that she had taken her case to the White House.
The Maryland Democrat wrote White House Chief of Staff William Daley, asking the Obama administration to intervene to delay new requirements that would raise the hourly rate of the foreign workers who come to the U.S. to pick crabs and shuck oysters. Business owners have threatened that they will have to close if the higher wages take effect.
The U.S. allows 66,000 foreigners to come to the country each year under what is known as the H-2B visa program. The temporary workers are hired for seasonal industries such as crab picking, oyster shucking or landscaping. They are required to return home once the season is over.
Labor Department officials proposed higher wages for H-2B workers in January after a federal court struck down guidelines for the program crafted by the Bush administration. Under the new rules, workers in Maryland who now make $7.25 an hour would receive $9.24, according to the industry. The new wages will take effect after Sept. 30 – in the middle of this year’s crab season.
“The wage rule was drafted without regard for or consultation with the industries it would affect,” Mikulski wrote in the letter. “I’m for everyone making an honest living and an honest wage, but I will not support the federal government changing the rules of the game in the middle of the tide for these watermen.”
Mikulski told The Sun this week that she has tried to contact the Labor Department to discuss the issue but said officials there had “lawyered up” because of a lawsuit filed by seafood businesses in Louisiana.