Employers: Changes in Wages, Working Conditions for Range Livestock Herders

New rules surrounding job conditions for H-2A workers who herd sheep, goats and other livestock mean employers must pay a wage that equals or exceeds the highest of a monthly pay rate, a collective bargaining agreement wage, or an applicable minimum wage set by court or law.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the old requirements — adopted in 2010 — do not readily apply to unique occupations that place workers in remote locations where they are on call 24 hours per day, seven days a week. The scarcity of U.S. workers employed in the field have also made setting an appropriate minimum wage difficult, resulting in what the federal agency refers to as “wage stagnation for nearly 20 years.”

Under the new rule, the monthly pay rate for all range occupations will use the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour and a 48-hour workweek. Starting in 2017, the monthly pay rate will be adjusted annually based on the Employment Cost Index calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Final Rule also allows for a two-year transition to the new pay methodology, with full implementation beginning in 2018.

Specific standards for housing used by range workers, such as circumstances where heat must be provided, along with adequate food, free of charge, and a minimum of 4.5 gallons per day of potable water are also included.

The new rules, announced this month, will become effective 30 days after the date of publication in the Federal Register. The regulation, the H-2A Herder Final Rule, implements a methodology to address wage stagnation and prevent adverse effects on U.S. workers.

Under the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program, employers who are unable to hire sufficient domestic workers may bring nonimmigrant foreign workers to the U.S. for temporary or seasonal agricultural work. The employer must file an application stating that a sufficient number of domestic workers are not available and the employment of these workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed workers in the U.S. Employers using the H-2A program must meet a number of specific conditions relating to recruitment, wages, housing, meals and transportation.

The final rule has been posted by USDOL here: www.foreignlaborcert.doleta.gov.