Immigrant wage dispute moved from Alexandria to Pennsylvania
By Kluger Kaplan December 14, 2011
One of three federal judges presiding over a fair-wage dispute on seasonal immigrant workers, has transferred the lawsuit in his court to a federal court in Pennsylvania. However, a federal judge in Florida, overseeing a lawsuit with basically the same arguments as those in Alexandria, ruled that it would not be transferred to Pennsylvania.
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By Billy Gunn
U.S. District Judge Dee Drell of Alexandria, one of three federal judges presiding over a fair-wage dispute on seasonal immigrant workers, has transferred the lawsuit in his court to a federal court in Pennsylvania.
Drell on Tuesday cited jurisdictional courtesy – comity – and rulings by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the possibility of inconsistent rulings in courts trying to rule on mirror-image issues that required him to transfer the case to U.S. District Judge J. Louis Pollak’s court in Pennsylvania.
It didn’t take long for an inconsistency to surface: A federal judge in Florida, overseeing a lawsuit with basically the same arguments as those in Alexandria, ruled that it would not be transferred to Pennsylvania.
In his ruling, Drell empathized with businesses that would be affected by U.S. Department of Labor guidelines that would hike wages substantially for foreign seasonal workers.
“We may be sympathetic to the burden to be placed on employers by having to pay significantly increased wages with little to no advance warning by the (Labor Department), but sympathy does not outweigh the ‘substantial overlap’ that exists between our case and the one in Pennsylvania,” Drell wrote.
In Pennsylvania earlier this year, Pollak ordered the Department of Labor to speed up implementation of “prevailing wage” guidelines and rules, which in some cases would raise rates paid to seasonal workers 50 to 100 percent.
So businesses filed lawsuits in Alexandria and in northern Florida against Labor and its 2010 wage rules that would raise H-2B worker pay. Attorneys for businesses argued many issues, including the burden placed on seafood processors, tree planters and others that rely on seasonal workers.
They also argued that many of the wage hikes would come mid-season for some of the businesses, throwing off budgets and forecasts, and sinking profits in thin-margin industries.
It’s a classic labor versus business dispute, with Labor officials arguing that higher immigrant pay would lead to more Americans being employed.
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