Oct. 14, 2015
DEPARTMENT OF LABOR ISSUES FINAL RULE FOR H-2A HERDERS
DOL Follows Sheep Industry Methodology on Herder Wage Increases
DENVER, Colo. – The American sheep industry let out a collective sigh of relief with the release this week of the H-2A Herder Final Rule from the U.S. Department of Labor. The rule followed much of the sheep industry’s proposed methodology concerning two critical issues that arose in the original DOL proposal earlier this year: wages and open range.
The work of American Sheep Industry Association leaders and members – in conjunction with Mountain Plains Agriculture Service and the Western Range Association – led to nearly 500 comments being submitted between April 15 and June 1 regarding the proposed rule. Changes to the H-2A rule as originally proposed would have financially crippled many western producers who utilize the program. In addition, many of those willing to take on the escalated cost of hiring herders would not have been eligible for the program because of restrictions on herding near fencing or the ranch headquarters.
The DOL is expected to publish on Oct. 16 in the Federal Register the final rule under which the sheepherder program will operate for the 2,700 herders tending to more than one-third of American sheep. Fortunately, the department decided to largely adopt one of the wage methodologies proposed by the sheep industry during the formal comment period this spring.
“The department will implement a wage formula tied to the federal minimum wage similar to our recommendation, and while it is a significant cost increase that won’t fit all ranches, the modification at least provides most farms and ranches the opportunity to sustain their sheep operation,” said ASI Executive Director Peter Orwick. “The proposal of the department in April to triple monthly wages would have put the majority of sheep producing families out of business.”
Former ASI President Clint Krebs of Oregon added that federal officials also greatly modified their proposal specifying ranches would be eligible to hire sheepherders under the H-2A program provision.
“We estimated 40 percent of the ranches that have hired sheepherders for decades would not have been eligible due to a proposed definition involving fencing where sheep graze,” Krebs said. “We appreciate the department reviewing the hundreds of comments from ranch families regarding the type of lands their sheep graze, and the huge impacts the original proposal would have on the ranches and the entire sheep industry.”
“The department’s final rule updates the salary, which had become stagnant,” said Orwick. “It also retains most of the provisions that have been in place for decades that allowed our industry to use the H-2A program in the first place, including mobile housing and annual visas.”
More information is available at the Legislative Action Center on www.sheepusa.org, or by contacting ASI, the Western Range Association or Mountain Plains Agriculture Service offices.
ASI is an equal opportunity employer. It is the national trade organization supported by 45 state sheep associations, benefiting the interests of more than 79,000 sheep producers.