Colorado lawmakers kill sheepherder labor bill
Associated Press Writer
DENVER (AP) – The Colorado Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously killed a bill on Thursday that would have set up a task force to resolve sheepherders’ complaints against employers over working conditions.
The committee’s decision came after ranchers said the bill could set a bad precedent for other agricultural interests that employ legal immigrants.
Ranchers and farmers told lawmakers on Thursday they are already meeting to discuss options to help sheepherders and that a law isn’t necessary to bring them to the table.
Backers of the legislation say foreign workers are sometimes subjected to 90-hour work weeks for anywhere from $600 to $750 a month on ranches in the West, with no running water and no days off.
Sen. Pat Steadman, a Democrat from Denver, said sheepherders have the least protection of all legal immigrants with work visas in agriculture because they work 24 hours a day, seven days a week taking care of 1,000 or more sheep in the high country.
Legislation is necessary because there has been too much acrimony and advocates aren’t being taken seriously, Steadman said.
“They’re living in a tin box, their meals, food and water are brought to them,” Steadman told the committee. “Advocates would like to see their wages increased, access to a toilet and running water and a hot shower, but the most immediate change would be a day off.”
Steadman said a bill requiring those changes had no chance of passing and sponsors were forced to fall back to a “timid study,” but even that failed to pass.
Colorado Woolgrowers Association spokeswoman Laura Locke said her organization is already discussing issues with sheepherders and no law is needed.
Crystal Korrey of the Colorado Farm Bureau told lawmakers her group opposed the legislation. She said any changes should be done at the federal level, which regulates immigrant work visas.
Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, said guest workers with complaints must hire attorneys to deal with the U.S. Department of Labor.
The measure passed by the House Agriculture Committee and rejected by the Senate could have forced the state Department of Labor and Employment to find better ways to work with the federal government to resolve issues, she said.
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