Feds move to protect sheep, goat herders

Feds move to protect sheep, goat herders
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The Department of Labor (DOL) is moving forward with new protections for foreign workers who herd sheep, goats and other livestock on the range.

The rule will force employers who hire foreign workers under the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker program to pay workers either the federal $7.25-per-hour minimum wage for a 48-hour workweek, a collective bargaining agreement wage or an applicable minimum wage set by a court or law within the next two years.

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Starting in 2017, the monthly pay rate will be adjusted annually based on the Employment Cost Index that’s calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The H-2A program, DOL said, allows employers who are unable to hire sufficient domestic workers to bring nonimmigrant foreign workers to the U.S. for temporary or seasonal agricultural work.

The employer, however, must file an application stating that a sufficient number of domestic workers were unavailable and the employment of foreign workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.

Employers accepted into the program then must meet certain requirements relating to recruitment, wages, housing, meals and transportation, but not all of these standards — adopted in 2010 — apply to unique occupations like livestock herders who work on call 24/7 in remote locations.

A lack of U.S. workers coupled with less than ideal working conditions, DOL said, has made setting an appropriate minimum wage difficult, resulting in stagnant wages for nearly 20 years.

The final rule, which aims to address unfair wages, will also force employers to provide their remote-range workers with heated housing, adequate food free of charge and a minimum of 4.5 gallons of portable water per day.