Mexican Crab pickers along Chesapeake Bay

Daniel Costa of the Economic Policy Institute reports on how Mexico temporary workers in Maryland are paid $3 an hour less than local American workers in the same job: manipulation of local wage surveys. He writes:

H-2B workers from Mexico are paid $9.50 an hour. These 80 workers are classified under the occupational title of “Meat, Poultry, and Fish Cutters and Trimmers.” According to DOL survey data, the national average wage for this occupation is $12.27 per hour, and the Maryland statewide average wage is $13.32 per hour. The workers are paid less per hour than the statewide and local average wage of for this work in the eastern shore of Maryland ($12.87).

How are employers allowed to pay such low wages to their H-2B workers? By using their own local wage surveys. The George W. Bush administration changed the H-2B wage rules to allow employers to use these wage surveys. The rule was later found by a federal court to have been illegally promulgated, and Obama’s DOL proposed to fix this early in the administration with a rule that required employers to pay their H-2B workers the local average wage according to DOL wage survey data.

For nearly the rest of the Obama administration, H-2B employers managed to stop the wage rules from being enforced, both through litigation and by convincing Congress to defund DOL’s enforcement of the rules. Eventually, in April 2015, DOL and the Department of Homeland Security promulgated a new H-2B rule which required employers to pay the local average wage, and which included new, stricter rules for private wage surveys. But employers got a rider in the fiscal 2016 omnibus appropriations bill expanding the use of private wage surveys.

The quick, talented women who come from Mexico on H-2B visas to pick crabmeat in Maryland deserve to be paid $3 to $4 dollars more per hour—at least the local or state average wage for the jobs they do. And who knows? At $13 an hour, maybe some Maryland residents would want to give crabpicking a try, just as they did before the H-2B visa was created.

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