Court Blocks Protections for Unemployed Americans and Exploited H-2B Guestworkers

For Immediate Release

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Court Blocks Protections for Unemployed Americans and Exploited H-2B Guestworkers

WASHINGTON - The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers' Committee) is concerned that on April 26, 2012, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida granted a preliminary injunction, blocking the implementation of the Department of Labor's (DOL) new comprehensive H-2B regulations. The new H-2B regulations were set to go into effect on April 27, 2012.  These regulations would have provided modest, common-sense requirements and greatly increased protections for U.S. workers and H-2B guestworkers against various forms of abuse including safeguards against retaliation, fair compensation for travel expenses and an opportunity for United States workers to seek and obtain these jobs first.

The Lawyers' Committee, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization, was established in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The mission of the Lawyers' Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law by using the skills and resources of the bar to address matters of racial justice and economic opportunity.

As a national leader in combating employment discrimination, the Lawyers' Committee has placed a priority on upholding fair labor practices, including equitable wages and working conditions for workers in the United States.  Recently, the organization launched the Delmarva Migrant Justice Program, which aims to improve the working conditions of U.S. workers and H-2B workers, among others, on the Delmarva Peninsula through education and outreach, litigation, and policy advocacy.  As part of these efforts, the Lawyers' Committee has engaged in advocacy in support of the new H-2B comprehensive regulations.

The preliminary injunction leaves in place prior DOL regulations issued in 2008 by the outgoing Bush administration. The 2008 regulations provide far less protections to the workers and they inhibit the Federal Government's ability to comply with its obligation of protecting wages and working conditions in the United States. For these reasons, the Lawyers' Committee is staunchly opposed to any efforts to block these new regulations.

Workers' rights advocates, including two membership organizations, two U.S. workers (including a U.S. citizen), and two Filipino nationals anticipating H-2B work this summer, seek to intervene in the litigation on the side of DOL.  The would-be intervenors argued that, because an injunction would deprive the workers of benefits due under the new regulations (such as transportation reimbursements averaging over $900 per worker), the court needed to require the plaintiff H-2B employers to post a bond or other security so that these benefits would be readily available to the workers if it is later determined that the injunction was issued in error.  The district court's order did not address the would-be intervenors' request to participate in the case or their assertion that a bond or other security was required to protect those potentially damaged by the injunction.

The Northern District of Florida directed the parties to file cross motions for summary judgment within 60 days for purposes of determining whether a permanent injunction should issue.  Workers' rights advocates are considering next steps to protect these important regulations.

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The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers' Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law.

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