FRA Issue Update - 9/4/20

H-2B Update 

Last week, FRA reported that we had reached out to consulate offices who process H-2B guest worker visas for forestry workers. Several of the consulate offices have reported back and have confirmed what the White House has reported to FRA. Consulates have been briefed on the exceptions and an employer will have to demonstrate that they meet two of the three criteria to receive the national interest exception to the non-immigrant labor suspension until the end of the year.

Consulate replies to our outreach include:

“The Department [DOL] has determined that those working in forestry and conservation are necessary to facilitate the immediate and continued economic recovery of the United States.  Because the Department has already determined that forestry workers fall within the national interest…”

“We will do our best to process these cases as expeditiously as possible and won’t hesitate to contact you if needed.”

H-2B - The Road Ahead

The Administration including an opportunity for employers of H-2B forestry workers to demonstrate that their work is of national interest in the national exception guidance was a great success. FRA and our allies on this issue worked determinedly with White House staff to outline the need for this pathway. This was a tremendous accomplishment that should allow tree planting and other forestry work to be completed over the next six to eight months. Our work is not completed on this issue, however.

FRA has started the process of developing an H-2B visa strategy for the remainder of the year and the 117th Congress. The strategy will outline important milestones that need to be completed to ensure the availability of non-immigrant labor to perform forestry work. These milestones include the incorporation of language in the FY2021 final spending bills that would allow the Department of Labor to issue supplemental H-2B visas if demand for labor cannot be met by American workers, and the introduction  of authorizing legislation that would provide a permanent fix to the H-2B cap issue.

Senate Drafts “Skinny” COVID-19 Relief Bill

Senate Republican leadership has prepared a draft COVID-19 relief bill that would provide $500 billion in assistance through various programs. The legislation will be taken up by the Senate next week in hopes of garnering enough votes to pass the measure. Senate Democrat leadership has denounced the legislation as not providing enough. Democrats initially pushed for a nearly $3.5 trillion bill passed by the House in May, but say they are now willing to come down to $2.2 trillion to meet the GOP halfway. Measures of the Senate bill include liability protection for businesses, supplemental unemployment benefits until December 27, education funding, paycheck protection program modifications including an easier process for loan forgiveness, appropriations for Health and Human Services for vaccine development and COVID-19 testing, and state and local government funding.

FMCSA Proposes HOS Pilot Program

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is now accepting comments on a proposed pilot program that would give more hours of service flexibility to drivers by allowing them to pause their 14-hour on-duty time. The FMCSA is seeking feedback on off-duty breaks from 30 minutes to three hours to be allowed to pause the 14-hour on-duty window if the driver takes 10 hours off-duty time at the end of the workday.

The FMCSA stated that “In considering the initiation of a pilot program, the Agency continues to believe that an off-duty break of up to 3 consecutive hours during a work shift may enable drivers to avoid congestion. The subsequent driving time would then be more productive, as drivers may have a greater opportunity to travel at the posted speed limits rather than at lower speeds through heavy traffic and congestion.”

FRA will be working with the American Trucking Associations to prepare comments. If you have suggestions on this proposed pilot program, please let us know.

Safe Routes Act Adds Cosponsors

Over the last month, two additional Representatives, both from Virginia, have signed on as cosponsors of the Safe Routes Act (HR 2453) - Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-7) and Congressman Ben Cline (R-VA-6). The log truck safety legislation now has 19 cosponsors of which 12 are Republicans and seven are Democrats. Additional cosponsors will be important as we work with Congressman Mike Gallagher (R-WI-8) to introduce the Safe Routes Bill in the next Congress.