Monday, May 5, 2008

AZ's Guestworker Bills

From MigrationInformation, this about that:

Arizona and Colorado Guest Worker Programs. State legislators in Arizona have proposed a state-run guest worker program. The Arizona program, detailed in Arizona House Bill 2863 and Senate Bill 1508, would allow Arizona employers with demonstrated labor shortages to hire workers from Mexico for two-year periods. An Arizona employer facing labor shortages could file an application with the Industrial Commission of Arizona. If the commission approved the employer's application, the employer would be able to recruit workers at a US consulate in Mexico, and the Arizona Department of Transportation would provide those workers with temporary worker ID cards.

In a similar move, legislators in Colorado have introduced a bill that would establish a pilot program that allows agricultural workers to be recruited in Mexico and brought to the United States on an expedited basis under the existing H-2A program.

Proponents of both the Arizona and Colorado bills have said a state guest worker program is needed to help meet labor shortages. Whether states have the legal ability to establish their own temporary worker programs, however, is highly contested. Even the bill's supporters agree the program would need federal approval.

Read Arizona's SB 1508 here.
Read Arizona's HCM 2013 here.
Read Colorado's House Bill 08-1325 here.
Learn more about Arizona's employer sanctions law in the January 2008 Policy Beat.
Read more about temporary worker programs in this January 2006 MPI Insight.

I'm still studying up on agricultural guestworker programs, and I don't know anything about MigrationInformation other than what appears on its website and the impression I've gleaned from scanning the site, which is cautiously favorable. If anyone out there has more information about it, I'd appreciate hearing from you.

First thoughts about temporary guestworker programs are these. Maybe I'll regret putting them out there, but I doubt it.

Historically, most have been designed to provide labor for "dirty, demanding, and dangerous" jobs. The inplication that they suffer from a shortage of willing native labor is hard to miss: If there were an adequate supply, a guestworker program wouldn't be needed.

Workers who are willing to accept these jobs historically are not well educated, well connected, or well off. They aren't well represented in Washington or well protected at the state level, either.

The capitalist profit imperative means that employers will pay whatever and offer whatever conditions and terms of work they can get away with. We know from the Braceros programs (1940s-1960s) that they can get away with conditions approximating slavery: below-minimum-wage pay, unsanitary and overcrowded housing, no medical care, no health, retirement or sick leave benefits, and brutally long hours.

Corporate interests dictate the actual language of many bills; this is one of the perks of lavish political action committee donations and well connected lobbyists. So we know that the tendency inevitably will be to secure the best possible terms for the employers and the fewest possible rights and protections for the guestworkers.

Studies of the realities of the Braceros programs bear all this out, as do reports from more recent guestworker programs in Europe. These studies also note the stigmatization of low-wage foreign workers, their ghettoization in host countries, and a predictable ensuing white backlash as racist/xenophobic nativists perceive national "takeovers," mass cultural reprogramming, and threats to the native labor force, real or not. When threats to national security are tacked on, the consequences for the guestworkers are all too clear and all too ugly, ranging from legalized oppression to murderous pogroms.

So, from the get-go, history teaches that the inherent tendency of guestworker programs is to exploit the guestworker. And that brings me to the twin AZ bills.

At present, I see no reason to trust that they'll be any different. Even with amendments that require prevailing wages and safeguards against substandard housing, abusive working conditions and hours, and other forms of exploitation such as bars to citizenship, the fact is this: Without strongly committed, incessant government oversight and enforcement, none of this matters one bit. The Braceros programs made that clear.

In the current economic crisis, in the current frenzy of racist xenophobia, what anti-regulatory Republican-dominated state legislature do you know that would mandate and fund an adequate guestworker inspection/enforcement program?

The twin AZ bills represent both an admission that Republicans' harsh anti-immigrant measures are profoundly threatening Arizona business, and a resolute determination to learn nothing from history. I can't see what they'll solve, and I'm not pleased that Napolitano is encouraging them, but I understand her dilemma.

Unless our guestworker program comes with the provisions that genuinely reward hard work with dignity--that is, with a reasonable path to citizenship; enforced work, housing, healthcare, and wage protections and all other measures necessary to prevent employers from undercutting wages and conditions for native workers; and a PR program to destigmatize these foreign workers, it will be a gilded time bomb and an insult to the human dignity and to the Bill of Rights.

We haven't been able to get these terms for home-grown workers in the whole history of the country. I'm just not holding my breath that we can get them for guestworkers in Bushlandia.


barb h said...

Absolutely! By the way there's a hearing today in the House Committee on Education and Labor on guestworker programs. Congress is considering creating NEW guestworker programs. There are a ton of problems with the ones we have and the Bush Administration is proposing changes to one of them-the H2A agricultural guestworker program-- that would actually make it WORSE (lowering wage rates, reducing minimum housing standards etc.)

Anyway you can watch the hearings on the committee's website. Here's a link:

Starts at 11am!

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