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Comments on H-2A Sheepherder Rules due to US Dept. of Labor by June 1, 2015

Submitted May, 2015.

Time is short to file comments regarding the US Dept. of Labor’s proposal to totally overhaul the H-2A sheepherder program. The H-2A program allows for the temporary employment of foreign workers from South America and other countries in herding and livestock production. The Dept. of Labor completely revised the previous rules without any input from stakeholders.

All sectors of the sheep industry are encouraged to file a comment asking the DOL to withdraw its wage proposal and replace it with a formula that is sustainable for sheep producers and herders. If the new rules are implemented as drafted, not only will employers who utilize H-2A workers be unable to employ trained herders from other countries, but the entire sheep industry will suffer as sheep businesses are forced out of operation and sheep numbers decline.

According to Peter Orwick, American Sheep Industry Association executive director, “It is critical for comments to be submitted by as many entities as possible — from sheep producers and lamb and wool companies to local and state governments.”

Few Americans are interested in or trained for work as herders. The loss of the H-2A program means that sheep operations will be forced to dispose of sheep resulting in the loss of lamb and wool companies, local businesses, shearing crews and wool warehouses, facilities that all sheep producers depend on.

To appreciate the significance of the H2-A program, 38 percent of the total US sheep inventory is tended by an H-2A sheepherder.

To submit comment got to and click on Comment Now

To read more about the DOL proposed rules, including an industry economic analysis, go to ASI’s Legislative Action Center

Additional points to consider

•  The proposed rules would triple the wages paid to H-2A workers. This increase is in addition to the other costs absorbed by employers for room and board. Increased wages will not increase the number of US workers seeking jobs as open-range herders. In Oregon and California, state law requires that herders be paid more than $1,600 per month. However, there has been no increase in the number of applicants when compared to states offering lesser salaries for these jobs.

• Hired labor is a significant cost to sheep ranchers (40 percent of the total operating costs), so increasing the labor rate by three will significantly deteriorate the profitability of sheep operations that currently employ herders.

• The job description used by DOL insists that livestock grazing take place away from fences. This definition is unrealistic. Even when grazing on large allotments herders rely on fences to keep the livestock in a manageable area. Further, many sheep ranchers in the West rely on the ability to graze their sheep on crop residue and close to the urban interface, which requires the livestock be watched and under the care of an H-2A sheepherder employee.

•  The impact of imposing the DOL rules will not only be felt by employers, but also by rural communities and by the businesses that process the lamb/wool products. Each H-2A open range herder position creates eight (8) US full-time jobs and the loss of each H-2A position will mean the loss of those jobs, mostly in small western towns. (See the economic analysis on ASI’s Legislative Action Center web page.)

•  The DOL did not involve stakeholders in discussions about the H-2A rules. There was no consideration given to the cost to family farms that will be forced to liquidate flocks and end a generations-old family tradition.

Don’t miss the June 1, 2015 deadline

To submit comment got to and click on Comment Now

Questions may be directed to the NLFA office:

phone (503) 364-5462 or through email