All decisions regarding a U.S. Department of Labor ruling requiring higher pay for legal aliens to take effect Nov. 30 have been taken under advisement by U.S. District Judge Dee Drell.
The judge said he would rule early, possibly next week, on motions to transfer the case back to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania or to issue a preliminary injunction against implementation of the new regulations. Drell’s comments came at the end of a day in which participants in the H-2B program said it would effectively put them out of business or allow foreign competition to shut them down.
The H-2B program allows seafood processors, the forestry industry, the lodging industry, the amusement industry and others to hire documented aliens when no Americans will accept those jobs. They are paid the same wages as Americans who do take the jobs. The plaintiffs say few Americans, if any, will take the jobs.
Following a federal court decision in Pennsylvania earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Labor passed a rule which raised the pay of aliens by September 30, sometimes more than 100 percent, according to testimony. After congressional action and two more lawsuits threatening a halt, the implementation deadline was extended to Nov. 30.
Sharon Patin of Henderson, co-owner of Bonanza Crawfish, testified she had spoken with fellow crawfish processors in her area and the new wage rules had workers at plants within a five-mile radius at different rates despite doing the same jobs. It would, she said, force a massive reduction in her company’s production.
“It trickles all the way down” said Patin, referring to fishermen, suppliers and others who provide services to the company.
Scott Arrant, chief financial officer of Gulf Isle Shrimp and Seafood in Lake Charles, testified his company, with two seafood processing plants in Dulac, would face massive reductions — if not shuttering. Arrant said forced raising of hourly rates to H-2B workers from $9.05 to $13.65 would cost more than $500,000; the company’s net profit is only $300,000. According to Patin and Arrant, most of the increased costs cannot be passed along.
Roy O. Martin III, owner of Roy O. Martin Lumber Co. in Alexandria, said that while his company does not use foreign workers, he has subcontractors who do. The rate increase, he said, “is going beyond the rate of inflation” and that “only by necessity” would companies even use H-2B workers, but Americans won’t take the jobs. According to Martin, if foresters cannot afford to reseed their land, the environmental impact would be severe.
“I was not expecting the Department of Labor to be adversarial to small businessmen,” he said.
Arguments for the federal government were that hardship on those hiring H-2B workers was not considered and could not be considered when a new wage methodology was created. They claim the new wage standards are, in part at least, to protect American jobs.
Lawyers for those affected said the new methodology was “arbitrary and capricious.” They also claimed the Department of Labor did not follow the law when it imposed the new wage guidelines.
In addition to court actions in Louisiana and Pennsylvania, a lawsuit has also been filed in Pensacola, Northern District of Florida.