Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Sheepherders Are Set to Get a Raise

DENVER—The U.S. Labor Department on Tuesday said foreign-born sheepherders must earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, roughly doubling their pay. For decades, these sheepherders have led a rugged existence across the West, driving thousands of sheep along desolate stretches of rangeland year-round. Such conditions, combined with their low pay—as little as $3.93 an hour, according to federal data—have drawn criticism from workers’ rights groups. Under the new rule, ranchers must boost the minimum hourly pay to $7.25 over the next two to three years, and the hourly wage would be adjusted annually based on the employment cost index. The Labor Department had initially proposed tripling the minimum pay of sheepherders, but it decided on a lower wage rate after opposition from the American Sheep Industry Association, which said such an increase would have wiped out nearly 40% of its industry. “This is a significant wage adjustment, but it offers the farm and ranch families an opportunity to sustain their operations,” said Peter Orwick, executive director of the sheep association, which represents nearly 80,000 sheep producers. Sheepherders in the U.S., mostly from Latin America, work under H-2A temporary visas and had been exempt from federal minimum-wage law. Under the H-2A program, foreign agricultural workers can be hired on a temporary basis if the federal government determines they won’t hurt American jobs. The Labor Department has historically set a minimum salary for sheepherders in more than a dozen states based on the prevailing wages being paid by ranchers there...more

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