The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, 29 U.S.C. § 1801 et seq. (“AWPA”), provides certain protections to guest workers employed through the federal H-2B program. This week, Judge Richard Smoak of the Northern District of Florida rejected a claim from workers employed pursuant to such program that their employment shucking oysters was covered by the AWPA. Araiza-Calzada v. Webb’s Seafood, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 127021 (N.D. Fla. Sept. 10, 2014).
Araiza-Calzada arose in an unusual procedural setting: plaintiffs settled their monetary claims under the AWPA and other statutes, however finalization of the settlement was contingent on submission to the Court for a declaratory ruling addressing the legal issue of whether, prospectively, oyster shucking at Defendant Webb’s oyster processing facilities should be covered by the statute. The principal question for the court was whether oysters were “agricultural or horticultural commodities” within the meaning of the AWPA, a term which the statutory scheme did not define and an issue upon which the Court located little regulatory guidance. Judge Smoak found that Congress did not intend for oyster (or other seafood) workers to fall under the AWPA and that oysters were not such an agricultural commodity. Judge Smoak concluded that the AWPA, and its predecessor statute, had their roots in the FLSA’s definition of agriculture which, in the judge’s view, was “clear [as of] 1938, [and that] Congress intended ‘agricultural’ to be limited to the land.” The Court found “no evidence that Congress has changed its mind” and thus declined to extend the AWPA’s definition of agricultural work to the sea.
Employers utilizing workers through the H-2B or other regulated employment program must analyze AWPA and all other statutory coverage.