BALTIMORE (CN) - Supplemental wages for visa-holding immigrants have been on hold for two years with no sign of relief, at least 1,500 temporary workers claim in a federal class action.
Administered by the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor, the H-2B visa program allows employers to bring foreign workers to the United States to perform temporary, unskilled work.
Prior to filing an H-2B petition with Homeland Security, an employer must confirm that no "qualified" U.S. workers are available to perform the position sought at the "prevailing wage" set by the Department of Labor.
Though the Labor Department published its newest wage rule in 2011, numerous lawsuits from employers and opposition from Congress have repeatedly kept the department from implementing the new wage rule, leaving the 2008 calculation in place.
In a federal class action filed Friday in Baltimore, lead plaintiff Pablo Gonzalez-Aviles notes that nearly a year has passed the Department announced that it would resolve the issue.
"In the ensuing nine months since the close of the comment period, DOL has taken no action on the proposed declaratory order and on October 26, 2015, in response to inquiries, DOL's counsel indicated that 'DOL has no plans to issue the Declaratory Order by a date certain,'" the complaint states.
With their right to receive wages from work in 2013 faced with an "indefinite stay," the class says there is no adequate remedy.
"Even if the stay is lifted, DOL's actions have severely handicapped the ability of workers to recover their lost SPWD wages because employers have been under no obligation to notify their workers of the SPWD issue," the complaint states, abbreviating supplemental prevailing wage determination. "Each day that DOL continues to hold the Employer Defendants administrative appeals of the SPWD in abeyance makes it more difficult to locate workers to inform them of their right to receive SPWDs."
The class also emphasizes that paying H-2B workers below the SPWD level causes depressed wages for U.S. workers in occupations in which H-2B workers are employed.
Had the new rule taken effect, Maryland landscape workers would earn $12.86 an hour, up from $9.49 per hour. As many as 58,000 H-2B workers were employed in the jobs subject to the SPWD set by the DOL in 2013.
In addition to the U.S. Department of Labor, the complaint names more than 80 Maryland employers as defendants. The class says these employers have used "administrative appeals to challenge the legality of the Secretary of Labor's SPWD wage requirement."
As time passes, it will only become more difficult to find workers and pay them the higher wages they are due, according to the complaint.
Neither a spokesman for the Department of Labor nor attorneys for the plaintiffs responded to emails seeking comment regarding the case.