CONTACT: Neil Ward (301/838-9385)
Rockville, MD - On October 20, the Forest Resources Association submitted testimony to the U.S. Department of Labor pointing out that DOL's proposal to move the status of non-native guestworkers employed in reforestation from H-2B to H-2A visa status would essentially shut down the guestworker program in that sector, threatening the reforestation work that underpins sustainable forestry in much of the U.S.
"A Task Group of 18 FRA-member reforestation contractors has reviewed the DOL proposal," stated Michael Kelly of Mike Kelly Forestry Services, who chairs FRA's National Forestry Contractors Task Group. "If implemented, this move will put many treeplanting firms out of business and threaten the future of U.S. commercial tree planting on millions of acres."
In FRA's submitted comment to the record, FRA President Richard Lewis pointed out that the H-2A visa program, directed toward conventional farm work, does not have the flexibility to deal with the special needs of treeplanting, brush clearing, and pre-commercial thinning. He noted that the need to arrange for inspected housing, and to specify work locations and working hours, months in advance of actual work, does not account for the special weather-related and logistical realities of this type of employment, with decisions about actual working locations often made within very short time-frames.
FRA's statement also observes that guestworkers presently employed in reforestation under the H-2B program are already covered under the federal Migrant and Seasonal Workers Protection (MSPA) Act, which addresses basic issues of housing, sanitation, and fair treatment.
FRA's Task Group has requested that DOL hold a formal hearing on the proposed rule, and has asked to testify at such a hearing. In addition, the Task Group has requested that the present hearing docket remain open for another 60 days, at a minimum, so that all contractors currently licensed under the H-2B program have an opportunity to submit individual comments.
The Forest Resources Association Inc. is a nonprofit trade association concerned with the safe, efficient, and sustainable harvest of forest products and their transport from woods to mill. FRA represents wood consumers, landowners, independent logging contractors, and wood dealers, as well as businesses providing products and services to the forest resource-based industries.