Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2013 12:00 PM
Several former sheepherders claim guestworker program reduces wages
By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit in which several former sheepherders accused the H-2A guestworker program of depressing wages.
Farmers who use the H-2A program must pay foreign laborers enough to avoid deflating wages for U.S. workers.
The plaintiffs claimed that wage-setting procedures for herders under the program are inadequate.
In 2011, the U.S. Labor Department issued new guidance for calculating the wages of sheep and goat herders working in the open range.
Previously, the agency required ranchers to pay the highest of three possible wage rates established under different procedures.
The new method simply called for ranchers to pay the wage rate determined by an agency administrator in each state.
Four former herders from Washington, Utah and Colorado -- Raymundo Mendoza, Francisco Castro, Alfredo Matamoros and Sergio Catalan -- claimed the new approach adversely affected wages for U.S. workers.
The plaintiffs alleged the "special procedure" was actually a rule that should have been offered for public comment but was not, violating administrative law.
The lawsuit asked a federal judge to overturn the new procedure. The Western Range Association, a group representing ranchers that voluntarily intervened in the case as a defendant, opposed the request.
U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell has dismissed the former herders' lawsuit because they lack standing to challenge the Labor Department in federal court.
The plaintiffs haven't shown that they're likely to suffer financial harm from the procedure because they're not currently working as herders and don't have any concrete plans to compete in the field, she said.
They also failed to show that the change in wage-setting procedures would hurt other U.S. workers who are currently employed as open-range herders, Howell said. "All that the plaintiffs offer in this regard is anecdotal beliefs and speculation."