A new rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) could hurt sheep and goat producers, especially those on the western open ranges. This news release from the American Sheep Industry says the significant changes to regulations governing the employment of non-immigrant H-2A workers as sheepherders, goat herders and for the production of livestock on the open range upsets decades of practices that have served the industry well.
A 2014 court order directed the DOL to engage in a notice-and-comment rulemaking to formalize special procedure guidance that has governed the H-2A sheep and livestock herding occupations for decades. The H-2A program was instituted in the 1950’s and has been used successfully ever since.
The proposed changes issued by the department include definitions that do not accurately reflect the unique characteristics of the industry, inadequate job description parameters and an alarming wage methodology that will triple labor costs and impose additional expenses on employers.
“It is highly unlikely that sheep producers could absorb the proposed extra costs and many, if not all, of them will be forced out of business, meaning the end to family farms and the loss of thousands of U.S. jobs throughout the American West,” says Peter Orwick, executive director for the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI).
“The court order directed the department to simply offer the special procedure guidance for public comment, not to change the substance,” comments Kelli Griffith, executive director of Mountain Plains Agriculture Service. “Yet, the DOL proposed rule makes substantial changes that will exclude many current operators from utilizing the program and will result in an untold number of livestock producers being forced out of business.”
ASI says that even the DOL acknowledges that its proposal “will have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities” but seems to disregard this economic impact on the businesses that supply those employers or process their products. Studies have shown that each H-2A herder position creates eight U.S. full-time jobs. The loss of each H-2A position will mean the loss of those jobs, largely in small western towns.
Those in the industry are encouraged to submit comments to this proposed rule on or before May 15.