Julie Su Underling Calls Migrant Program He Oversees ‘The Purchase of Humans’
Senators demand but don’t expect answers from Su
By Thomas Buckley, May 15, 2023 4:33 pm
A senior Department of Labor staffer a few weeks ago claimed the H-2A migrant worker program “literally is the purchase of humans to perform difficult work under terrible conditions, sometimes including subhuman living conditions.”
The staffer also claimed wages are stolen from workers, that job recruiters in Mexico (mostly) defraud and “traffic” them, and that the program has “systemic” problems baked into it.
Mike Rios is the staffer and he is the southeast Regional Enforcement Coordinator at the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor – in other words, he helps monitor/run the program – and his boss is Julie Su, the acting Labor Secretary who – if she gets 50 votes in the Senate – is poised to become the new Secretary of Labor.
The explosive claims, made here, have troubled some of the senators who hold Su’s fate in their hands, saying they show the department’s bias against American farmers.
“If the officials tasked with enforcing the H-2A program believe the system amounts to ‘wage theft’ and ‘the purchase of humans to perform difficult work under terrible conditions,’ then either DOL is currently unable to competently enforce the law or these statements reflect a startling bias against American farmers who use the program,” wrote Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Ted Budd (R-NC) in a letter to Su. “As Acting Secretary, it is your responsibility to ensure that federal law is enforced fairly and without bias or prejudice.”
The H-2A program allows for the entry of temporary agricultural workers into the country and does have proper workplace and wage enforcement standards, standards it appears Rios – an enforcement officer – says the Labor Department is not properly enforcing (either that or he just wants to discredit the program.)
“Mr. Rios’s claim that the H-2A program is the equivalent to human slavery finds no support in law or fact. It is also inflammatory and unbecoming of a senior federal official,” the senators wrote Su. “If the officials tasked with enforcing the H-2A program believe the system amounts to ‘wage theft’ and ‘the purchase of humans to perform difficult work under terrible conditions,’ then either Department of Labor is currently unable to competently enforce the law or these statements reflect a startling bias against American farmers who use the program.”
The Labor Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Cassidy and Budd say the situation is yet another example of Su’s history of on-the-job incompetence, dating back to her time as California’s labor chief during which the EDD lost about $40 billion to fraud.
They are also troubled by Su’s seeming unwillingness to provide prompt – if any at all – responses to congressional questions considering her recent interactions among other issues.
During a HELP committee hearing, Cassidy said Su’s reluctance to answer questions and provide documents is yet another reason to not confirm her as the next labor secretary.
“It seems unlikely she would be more transparent after the conformation process,” Cassidy said.
The full senate vote on her confirmation has yet to be scheduled and that delay (Eric Garcetti waited nearly 600 days before getting committee re-approval for his India ambassadorship and then got a floor vote within about a week) could be an indication Democratic senate leadership is still hunting for votes.
At least four Democrat senators have yet to publicly give their support to Su, and no Republicans are expected to vote “yes.” As Su needs 50 votes – Vice President Kamala Harris can break the tie in her favor – to be confirmed, a loss of just two Democrats will doom her bid.
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