When the Carrier Corporation announced it would be closing its furnace factory in Indianapolis, a decision that would have destroyed close to 1,000 middle class jobs in the U.S., there was widespread outrage from political leaders from both parties.
But when the House Judiciary Committee narrowly passed H.R. 4092 — the Agricultural Guestworker Act this fall, a bill that would flood the meat processing and agricultural sectors with hundreds of thousands of untrained visa holders — there was mostly silence on both sides of the aisle.
At Carrier, it was about 1,000 jobs. With the AGA, it’s hundreds of thousands. If we care about American jobs and food safety, it’s time to pay attention to this bill before it’s too late.
The AGA is a direct threat to America’s hard-working families, the incomes they depend on, and the food we all eat. This is not hyperbole. If the AGA becomes law, it will allow 450,000 foreign visa holders to work in agricultural and meat processing jobs that are currently held by hard-working American men and women. The impact of this bill, particularly upon the hundreds of thousands of people employed by the meat and poultry industry, would be devastating.
This bad bill does more than just hurt American jobs and workers — it also puts our food supply at risk. While we may not see food processing workers do their jobs, the truth is that they are highly trained professionals who perform dangerous and highly skilled work. These professionals serve as a much-needed layer of protection for consumers when it comes to food safety because they know to quickly spot meat that is low quality or diseased.
Like any high skilled and vital profession, current salaries reflect the quality and importance of this workforce, with wages as high as $23 per hour. By allowing untrained workers or guest workers to hold these important jobs for as little as $10.88 per hour, the AGA will effectively drive down wages and destroy hundreds of thousands of good jobs in the process.
Make no mistake, this bill creates a guest worker system that will turn middle-class jobs vital to food safety into jobs that are temporary, untrained, and unskilled. Even worse, it would exploit these guest workers by placing them at grave risk by taking jobs that require them to use sharp knives in a fast-paced environment with little to no training.
At a time when we need to strengthen American jobs and make our food safer, the AGA would also allow guest workers to stay for up to three years. That isn’t a guest-worker, that’s a long-term employee and further shows how this bill is designed to both exploit foreign workers and replace American workers at the same time.
There’s no denying that our immigration system is broken. We need structural reforms to our employment-based visa system that will protect foreign workers and immigrants. We also need immigration laws that protect American workers. But the AGA will only make a failing system even more flawed.
Which invites the question: Why would any member of Congress support a bill that would destroy American jobs, exploit foreign workers, and endanger our food supply? It may be possible to craft worse legislation, but it would be difficult.
Marc Perrone is the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
If you would like to write an op-ed for the Washington Examiner, please read our guidelines on submissions here.