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The region's sheep ranchers are pushing back against new rules proposed by the U.S. Department of Labor that ranchers say put their livelihoods on a short leash.
The latest edition of the Idaho Mountain Express reports
that the department's new rules target new wage guidelines for foreign nationals, many of them from Peru, that assist sheepherding in the Western U.S. Current rules allow employers to bring in shepherds from Peru and other nations for as long as three years if the employer can't find an adequate U.S. workforce for the task. The American Sheep Industry Association estimates that nearly 40 percent of U.S. sheep are under the care of workers who are in the U.S. under a federal H-2A work visa.
The Mountain Express
reports that wages have been "stuck at a level determined in 1994 of $750 a month," and the U.S. Labor Department is looking for ranchers to adjust wages that are more in line with prevailing local wages paid for similar work to U.S. citizens. The department is proposing a five-year increase of wages that would raise monthly wage levels to $2,400 by 2020.
But local sheep ranchers told the Mountain Express
that the rule could drive them out of business and could ultimately result in harm to the Wood River Valley economy and even several town in Peru that depend on the income from the men and women working in Idaho.
The public comment period on the proposed rule ended June 1 and the U.S. Labor Department is expected to make its decision on the rule by November 1.