Hearing Set for New Labor Regulations Threatening Louisiana Seafood Businesses
Folks in the Louisiana seafood industry can’t seem to catch a break. As if a series of devastating hurricanes and a mega-oil spill weren’t enough, the industry is now being hit with new Department of Labor regulations that will raise temporary-employee wages dramatically.
To many seafood-processing businesses across the state, the economic impact will feel as powerful as a wallop from Hurricane Katrina — especially given their already-fragile condition.
In response, a group of plaintiffs — including the Crawfish Processors Alliance, Inc., and the American Shrimp Processors Association (ASPA) — have filed an injunction in a U.S. District Court to delay or permanently halt the changes, which are set to take effect as early as September 30, 2011.
Plaintiffs will make their case for injunctive relief at a hearing in Alexandria, La., on September 23.
The changes affect the H-2B program, which has been around since 1987. The program allows legal immigrants to take seasonal, temporary jobs that American workers haven’t historically lined up for.
“What happens is, we advertise for these jobs, but very few American workers apply for them,” says Mark Abraham, managing partner of Gulf Island Shrimp and Seafood. “To commute to and work in a shrimp plant that has a slight smell, I guess American workers are not interested. So the H-2B program gives us a chance to find good workers.”
The H-2B program has enabled Abraham and others to stay in business and employ scores of American workers.
The changes to H-2B regulations may raise wages by as much as 83 percent. According to the injunction, ASPA members who currently pay $8.07 per hour will be required to pay $14.77 per hour, or an 83 percent increase. Those currently paying $7.63 per hour will be required to pay $12.52 per hour, or a 64 percent increase.
The injunction claims new regulations “impose immediate retroactive, substantive, and burdensome changes” to employers H-2B workers.
“The shrimp business is a penny-and-nickel kind of business,” he says. “We just make a small amount of profit per pound. If H-2B wages go up to $14 per hour, we may pay that temporarily, but eventually we’re going to lose our businesses. We won’t be able to compete with foreign imports. The Department of Labor seems to miss that.”
ASPA leaders point to the financial strain many of their peers have endured since 2000, when low-priced imported shrimp began flooding the U.S. market, driving down the price of domestic product. They’ve struggled ever since, managing to rebuild their businesses again and again, even after hurricanes and the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
But this time, they say, the blow could be a mortal one.
Editors Note: The minimum wage was created to protect women and children from exploitation. Well, anybody working for the minimum wage in 2011 is exploited. If the company you work for could export your minimum wage job to China or India they would.
Wages around the world have been dropping for three decades. Greed has been rising for the same time. I think it is time for a ‘Greed Index”
Wages for Labor should be calculated by the physicality of the work(how many calories burned) as opposed to how long you sat on your fat ass in your cubicle wondering how you can get a pay raise based on your skin color or who you are blowing.