Every year, tens of thousands of temporary H-2B workers travel to the United States with dreams of profitable employment that could lead to permanent residency. H-2B employees are temporary, foreign nonagricultural workers. Upon arrival in the country, many H-2B workers find employment abuses that resemble slavery. To understand the extent of the abuses, put yourself in their place and imagine that your legal sponsor has confiscated your passport, forced you to work 14 hours a day without a break and arranged for you to sleep in an uncomfortable, packed living space.
New legislation to stop the abuse
Whistleblower laws have been instrumental in revealing, uprooting and preventing environmental abuses, corruption and fraud. Sen. Richard Blumenthal hopes to use the power of the whistleblower to expose and eliminate the exploitation of H-2B workers by including a whistleblower provision in an amendment to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.
The legislation proposed by Sen. Blumenthal, Senate Amendment 1429, says that a person may not fire, demote, threaten, harass or discriminate against employees because they filed a complaint, disclosed information to an entity or supplied information to governmental offices about violations of this act. The amendment also protects employees who refuse to participate in any task that they think is a violation of the act. The proposed legislation also provides for relief under the whistleblower provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act for employees who believe they were victims of retaliation.
Evidence that the senator’s amendment may work
If a whistleblower statute protecting H-2B workers can shadow the success of the U.S. False Claims Act, then great strides in protecting guest workers can be achieved. Since 1986, the False Claims Act has recovered more than $30 billion for the U.S. government because it provides retaliation protection for whistleblowers. If guest workers are provided the same measure of protection, they can be empowered to protest and disclose mistreatment.