WASHINGTON, D.C. — Crawfish workers in Louisiana took a legal stand on Tuesday against a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) rule that allegedly allows employers to underpay temporary foreign workers.
Adopted in 2015, the DOL rule is blamed for depressed wages for crawfish-processing workers in Louisiana – both U.S. workers and those hired from outside the U.S. under the H-2B visa program for temporary workers doing non-agricultural work.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, could upend the wage system employers use to keep wages low for temporary foreign workers.
The plaintiffs include both Louisiana-based and H-2B crawfish workers and the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice. The plaintiffs are represented by TRLA, the North Carolina Justice Center, and Edward Tuddenham, an attorney in private practice.
“Crawfish processing wages in Louisiana are too low, year after year,” said Elizabeth Leiserson, a TRLA attorney representing one of the worker plaintiffs. “One reason is that the industry relies a lot on H-2B workers, and DOL is letting crawfish employers sidestep the normal requirements for setting H-2B wages.”
According to the lawsuit, DOL typically sets H-2B minimum wages according to a large-scale wage survey – Occupational Employment Statistics, or OES, survey – done by the federal government. The 2015 rule, however, gives employers a way to circumvent the OES survey and keep wages low.