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Cablegate: United Farm Workers Union Highlights Problems With

VZCZCXRO9687
RR RUEHGA RUEHGD RUEHHA RUEHHO RUEHMC RUEHMT RUEHNG RUEHNL RUEHQU
RUEHRD RUEHRS RUEHTM RUEHVC
DE RUEHME #3493/01 3302139
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 252139Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY MEXICO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4119
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHINGTON DC
INFO RUCNCAN/ALL CANADIAN POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXC/ALL US CONSULATES IN MEXICO COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 MEXICO 003493

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR DRL/AWH AND ILSCR, CA/VO FOR DONAHUE, WHA/MEX FOR
DARRACH, USDOL FOR ILAB AND ETA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB CVIS EAGR ECON PGOV SOCI PINR MX
SUBJECT: UNITED FARM WORKERS UNION HIGHLIGHTS PROBLEMS WITH
THE H-2A PROGRAM ON BOTH SIDES OF US/MEXICO BORDERS

REF: (A) MEXICO 2054 (B) MCKEON/CA EMAIL OF
11/24/2008 (NOTAL)

1. Summary: Mission Mexico,s Consular Section recently
organized a conference in Dallas on H-2A visa processing.
During this event an official of the United Farm Workers
(UFW) shared with Labor Counselor (an invitee at the
conference) his union,s concerns about the problems they
believe exist in the H-2A visa program. When laying out
these concerns the UFW official cited the details of a
troubling situation involving agricultural workers from the
Pacific western Mexican state of Colima and the frustrations
the state governments of Arizona and Colorado have
experienced in dealing with the H-2A program. In the case of
Colima the UFW official said, guest workers were offered jobs
in California and promised good wages, six months of regular
work, free housing and low cost meals. None of these
promises were kept. UFW efforts to enlist the support of GOM
state and federal authorities in helping the workers obtain
some form of redress for their grievances have so far been
unsuccessful. With regard to Arizona, the union official
indicated that the authorities there are so frustrated with
the H-2A program,s perceived inability to provide needed
legal labor for the state,s agro-industries that the
state,s Governor contacted Labor Secretary Elaine Chao with
numerous recommendations for its reorganization. Colorado is
at the point of implementing its own guest worker program.
The UFW official made clear that his union firmly supports
the H-2A visa program. However, press reports and other
documents subsequently sent to Labor Counselor underscored
the UFW,s concern that few persons, businesses or government
agencies on either side of the border are fully prepared to
take advantage of the potential benefits the H-2A program
could provide to both US agribusinesses and to unemployed or
underemployed Mexican workers. End Summary


DALLAS H-2 VISA CONFERENCE
--------------------------

2. On October 28-29 Embassy Mexico City,s Consular Section
held its &Second Annual H2 Visa Forum8 with the theme of
&Building a Foreign Guest Worker Force to Fill America,s
Needs8 (reported Ref B). One of the main goals of the forum
was to facilitate citizen/government communication and free
exchange of opinion and ideas between those two. Its main
audience was private sector companies involved in petitioning
for foreign workers from Mexico. This year, however, the
Consular Section asked Mission Mexico,s Labor Counselor to
work with them to invite interested American labor unions and
appropriate state and federal Mexican government
representatives.

3. Two American labor organizations participated in the
forum, the United Farm Workers (UFW), which is part of the
Change To Win coalition and the Farm Labor Organizing
Committee (FLOC) which is a part of the AFL-CIO. No Mexican
unions participated in the forum but there were
representatives or persons affiliated with the state
governments of Veracruz, Jalisco, Puebla and Nuevo Leon.
During the two-day event the UFW official, one of the
union,s National Vice Presidents, took full advantage of the
forum to network with the Mexican state government
representatives particularly those from Puebla and Veracruz.
In the case of Puebla the UFW official arranged for
subsequent meetings with the state,s labor authorities. In
his discussions with the Veracruz representatives the union
official proposed exploring ways to send agricultural workers
to harvest citrus products in Florida and coffee in Hawaii.
Veracruz is a major grower of citrus produce and coffee in
Mexico and has a vast pool of workers familiar with
harvesting these products.


UFW CITES PROBLEMS WITH H-2,S IN US AND MEXICO
--------------------------------------------- -

4. On the margins of the Dallas forum the UFW official held
a series of in-depth conversations with Mission Mexico,s
Labor Counselor. The union official steadfastly expressed
the UFW,s firm support for the H-2 program but said that as

MEXICO 00003493 002 OF 004


currently implemented it was causing problems on both sides
of the border. On the Mexican side of the border the UFW
official cited an ongoing situation in the Pacific western
state of Colima as an example of what his union saw as one of
the problems of the H-2 visa program.

5. According to the UFW official, this past July
approximately 180 agricultural laborers were recruited from
Colima to work on farms in California. The workers were
recruited by a relatively inexperienced labor contractor who
promised them the full range of housing, meals and salary
benefits as stipulated under the applicable H-2 visa
provisions. For the workers the best thing they thought they
had been promised was a guarantee of earning USD 100 per day
and a 40 hours workweek for a period of at least six months.
In order to obtain the jobs promised by the recruiter the
workers were all required to pay USD 600 to cover visa
processing and travel costs. Unfortunately for the Colima
workers none of the promises made to them were kept.

6. Upon arrival in the US the laborers were reportedly
placed in substandard housing, provided meals that consisted
of little more than beans and were rarely, if ever, given the
40 hours of work per week they had been promised. In some
cases the laborers were never offered the full-time
employment they had been promised; in other instances they
were reportedly not paid in full for the work they actually
did. With the help of farm labor advocates such as the UFW
and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLA)
the workers have filed a suit against the recruiter to obtain
the wages and benefits they were promised. Both the UFW and
the CRLA have attempted to enlist the assistance of the GOM
and the state government of Colima to help the workers to
obtain some form of redress for their grievances. Thus far
these efforts have been unsuccessful. Ultimately most of the
workers returned home to Mexico, at their own expense, having
earned less than the net cost of their original outlay for
coming to work in the US.

7. In talking with Mission Labor Counselor the UFW official
did not specifically blame the recruiter for what happened to
the Colima workers. However, he did opine that the situation
with the Colima workers might never have happened if the H-2A
visa program had more effective oversight. Such oversight,
he averred, might have prevented someone like the
inexperienced recruiter from ever being authorized to
contract foreign laborers in the first place.


ARIZONA IS UNHAPPY WITH THE H-2 PROGRAM
---------------------------------------

8. At a later point the UFW official also commented on the
problems in the US that state governments were having with
the H-2A program and specifically mentioned the cases of
Arizona and Colorado. In his conversation during the Dallas
forum, and in subsequent documents forwarded to Labor
Counselor, the UFW official argued that frustration with the
implementation of the H-2A visa program was growing and
prompting some states to take matters into their own hands.
The most thoughtful example of this frustration the union
official said could be seen in a letter shared with the UFW
sent by Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano to US Department of
Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

9. In her letter dated February 2008, Governor Napolitano
expressed her concerns and shared her suggestions regarding
the H-2A program. Speaking as the executive of a border
state with an extensive agricultural industry, Governor
Napolitano decried &the Federal government,s cynical
refusal to reform our immigration laws8. Continuing on, the
Governor indicated that the need for agricultural laborers
far outstrips the number of persons in the US willing to
accept this type of work. The H-2A program, Governor
Napolitano said, seemingly provides a way to obtain foreign
labor to address this situation but that it has never worked
and its flaws have been overlooked for years. As a result,
she stated, the &H-2A program gives the appearance of
offering employers a path to obtain lawful temporary
agricultural workers, however the program has missed the mark
so widely it is scarcely used.8

MEXICO 00003493 003 OF 004

10. The governor,s letter then went on to identify four
areas that significantly hinder the H-2 program. The areas
she cited were: (1) the mandatory requirement that employers
provide worker housing (the Governor favors a housing
allowance instead of housing per se which she believes would
provide both employers and workers with the added flexibility
needed to adapt to local conditions); (2) the involvement of
four separate government agencies (state employment agencies,
US DOL, State and DHS/CIS) in processing H-2 applications;
(3) time and resourses devoted unprofitably to individually
based certifications and; (4) a wage formula that the
governor said does not look honestly at the actual pay of
agricultural workers in the US.

11. Governor Napolitano,s suggestions for improving the
H-2A program include such recommendations as greater
coordination between the USG and the border state governments
who constantly deal with the problems created by the shortage
of agricultural workers, changing the focus of current
regulations to help expedite H-2A processing, ensuring a
realistic balance between the needs of employers and
legitimate enforcement and fraud detection requirements and
having DOL turn over more authority to the states in the
adjudication of H-2A applications. The governor also
suggested experimenting with establishing industry-wide
standards for determining labor shortages. (Note: DOL and
DHS are both working on new H-2 regulations although they are
not yet completed.)


UFW SEEKS COMMON GROUND WITH STATES
-----------------------------------

12. In commenting on Governor Napolitano,s letter the UFW
official indicated that his union generally agreed with many
of Arizona,s concerns. Moreover, the union official
indicated that Arizona was not unique among Border States in
expressing these concerns. Other states may not, as yet, have
laid out their recommendations for revising the H-2 program
in as detailed a fashion as Arizona but the UFW official made
clear that many state governments share the view that H-2
program and the USG are not responsive to their needs.

13. While Arizona is attempting to work with the USG on the
question of how to deal with the shortage of agricultural
workers Colorado has taken a more go it alone approach.
According to the UFW official, earlier this year Colorado
signed into law what it is called a &state8 guest worker
program. The stated purpose of the Colorado legislation was
to &remove constraints on commerce caused by activities
detrimental to Colorado's agriculture industry and to allow
the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, in
cooperation with the Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture, to
establish a Colorado nonimmigrant agricultural seasonal
worker pilot program and to assure necessary protections for
nonimmigrant and seasonal agricultural workers.8 Colorado,s
independently established guest worker program could be the
shape of things to come if other border states decide to act
on their own to address the problems of insufficient workers
to satisfy the needs of their agro-industries. However, this
pilot guest worker program does not make clear how these
non-immigrants might qualify for US visas which can only be
issued on the basis of DHS/CIS approved petitions.

14. The UFW official indicated that his union was doing
everything possible to work with states like Arizona and
Colorado to help them address their agricultural labor
shortage needs. The UFW, he said, had its own ideas about
the recommendations made by Arizona and the legislation
passed by Colorado but did not see either of these state
level actions as obstacles that could not be overcome through
honest negotiation. A high priority for the union, the UFW,
was to find a balance in the H-2 program that supported
American agriculture, allowed employers to obtain the labor
they needed in a timely fashion and to find a legal way to
allow laborers (in this case Mexican laborers) to find the
jobs they are seeking while maintaining fair labor standards.

COMMENT
-------

MEXICO 00003493 004 OF 004

15. Based on the information shared with Mission Labor
Counselor by the UFW there is great interest in the US in
making the H-2 visa program more effective. The Border
States in particular have a strong interest in making the
program work since most have vibrant agribusinesses and all
of them deal regularly with issues raised by migrant Mexican
laborers who may or may not be in the US legally. The UFW is
a good example of an American union trying to help address
these issues by working with state governments on both sides
of the US/Mexico border. Close USG cooperation with the UFW
and similar organizations could potentially provide
significant benefits to both US agribusinesses and to
unemployed or underemployed Mexican workers.

Visit Mexico City's Classified Web Site at
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/wha/mexicocity and the North American
Partnership Blog at http://www.intelink.gov/communities/state/nap /
GARZA

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