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September 21, 2011

Senate panel approves delay of guest worker wage hike

A new federal rule that would require crab processing plants on the Eastern Shore and elsewhere to pay a higher wage to temporary foreign workers would be delayed for a year under legislation approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday.

Advanced by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the measure was attached to a larger spending bill in the Senate and appears to enjoy bipartisan support. The rule, created by the U.S. Department of Labor, will take effect Oct. 1 unless Mikulski's change is approved.

"We're for everybody earning an honest wage," the Maryland Democrat said. But, she added, "eighty percent [of the workers] come back every year. They must be satisfied."

The U.S. permits 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 jobs such as crab picking, oyster shucking or landscaping and 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 rule, workers in Maryland who now make $7.25 an hour would receive $9.24, according to industry estimates.

Mikulski, who has long advocated for the Eastern Shore crab picking plants, has repeatedly expressed frustration that Labor Department officials would not meet with her on the issue because of pending lawsuits over the new rule.

"When they lawyered up, I got revved up," she said Wednesday. "This is the result."

Two Republicans on the committee, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said they support Mikulski's measure. Both have industries in their states that rely heavily on the H-2B workers.

"Without the H-2B workers, many employers in Maine would have to literally close their doors," Collins said. "That would put out of work the year-round American workers that they have."

No one raised objections to Mikulski's one-year delay during the hearing, but that doesn't mean there is unanimous opposition to the wage increase. Several advocates, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, argue that more U.S. residents would consider taking the seasonal jobs if employers paid a higher wage.

Posted by John Fritze at 6:56 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Washington
        

Comments

While I support(ed) the notion of not imposing the new rates immediately after the protests against them were finally resolved so as to give the business operators and the people directly affected some time to make their choices and arrangements to accommodate what they all knew was coming down the pike eventually without undue immediate term duress...

but allowing an entire year before starting the new rates is a bit much.

I have a solution, put the people on welfare in these position, pay them 10.00$ but put it to their welfare check. If they don't want to work don't pay the welfare.
Wayne Blair

I wrote to Sen. Mikulski via email about my concerns with her support for a delay in implementing the program last week. Of course, no reply yet. And the only reply I expect will be a standard, thanks but this is my position and you little people just don't understand the issues the way I do. This will be followed by the fund-raising requests to support her next campaign. I guess that's an example of how effective one person can be in trying to influence a Senator - not effective at all. We are all gnats as far as they are concerned. Well, no Maryland Democrat above local level will get my vote in the next election. I'm done.

Wayne,

Most people on "welfare" either are disabled or have small children. So which is it going to be? Do we make the disabled try to work at the crab processor, or do we leave small children at home alone? $10/hour won't pay for daycare.

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About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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