by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Farms employing H-2A workers are required to provide housing for them; however, the Division of Immigrant Policies and Affairs (DIPA), a part of the New York State Department of Labor (NYS-DOL), inspects and approves the housing. Caylin Gwise with the New York spoke on H-2A housing for a recent webinar hosted by the NY-DOL.
The DOL can conduct pre-occupancy housing inspections to ensure it complies with the DOL regulations. Gwise said housing built or substantially remodeled before 1980 must comply with ETA 20 CFR 654.400, after 1980 goes under OSHA 29 CFR 1910.142.
“If the housing location is within a pre-existing structure, such as an apartment built inside the farm’s barn, the employer must have a Certificate of Occupancy through a local municipality,” Gwise said.
If the farm rents the farm worker’s housing, the farmer must provide a copy of the lease or at least a notarized letter detailing the rental terms. In addition, the employer must also submit some kind of documentation to show the property complies with local, state and federal housing standards, like a certificate of inspection from the town or documentation of a DIPA inspection.
“If it’s slightly deficient, the DOL will notify the employer,” Gwise said. “The Foreign Labor Certification unit may require further improvements.”
Farmers will need to supply adequate and convenient source of water and proof that well water is safe to drink.
“The water must meet the standard of the appropriate health authority,” Gwise said.
The DOL suggests two tests annually but requires at least one. A list of approved labs can be found at www.wadsworth.org/regulatory/elap/certified-labs.
Gwise said common issues delay housing approval include lack of cleaning, debris from previous workers, existing tenants still in the house, and lack of laundry facilities in or very near the housing. Taking workers to a laundromat is not accepted.
“In the past it was acceptable, but now they must be available on-site for workers,” Gwise said.
Laundry facilities don’t have to be in the house; however, if they’re in a housing unit next door or at an adjacent worksite, that’s acceptable.
One attendee of the webinar asked about a weekly laundry service that would pick up and wash workers’ laundry. Gwise said she would recommend farmers ask for DOL guidance if they’re interested in trying that as a solution to providing laundry services.
The housing should look tidy.
“Don’t forget to consider the exterior,” Gwise said. “It should be well maintained and free of debris. The screens should be intact and in good condition.”
Mobile trailers and campers are not acceptable housing for workers in New York.
“Hotels can be acceptable in certain circumstances, as long as they have a lease to show it’s secured for the entire length of the contract,” Gwise said. “There has to be cooking and laundry available on site.”
The home should be free of safety issues, leaks and odors. The kitchen should be free of fire hazards and with appliances clean and in working order. The bathroom should also be clean and with a shower curtain and other essentials. The bedrooms should have clean linens, beds on frames — not mattresses on the floor — and curtains or blinds for privacy.