Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain said crawfish plants that employ temporary guest workers as crawfish peelers could be forced to pay hourly wages that are on average 32 percent higher than last year under a new wage calculation methodology adopted by the United States Department of Labor.

The proposed change would affect any Louisiana industry that employs workers through the federal H-2B labor program, Strain said in a news release.

The H-2B Visa Program is a default United States worker program that permits American business to fill seasonal job vacancies with H-2B foreign visa workers so businesses can avoid closures due to the lack of seasonal workers.

Shrimp, crab and other food service industries as well as candy manufacturers, sugarcane, forestry, equine, construction and hotel businesses employ seasonal workers through the H-2B program. These seasonal employees are typically paid the prevailing wage for the type of job performed in the geographical area in which they are hired.

Strain said a March 23 LSU AgCenter report estimated that the new Labor Department wage methodology increased H-2B seasonal worker wages by an average of 32 percent, which means labor costs will rise from $13 million to $19.5 million in one year. The estimated reduction in economic activity resulting from the proposed wage increase is $40 million to $60 million per year.

“Louisiana shellfish industries are under constant pressure from overseas competition where wages are much lower than American rates,” Strain said. “Louisiana created the crawfish tail meat industry. Now it’s practically extinct. It has put United States businesses that rely on H-2B labor at a severe disadvantage.”

Strain said the national guest worker policy must be revamped.