U.S.: Farm Workforce Modernization Act passage welcomed by industry

November 21 , 2019

Industry leaders have applauded the passage of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. The legislation was approved by the House Judiciary Committee by voice vote and will be voted on this Friday morning.

Groups including Western Growers, United Fresh, United Farmworkers, U.S. Apple Association and AmericanHort publicly expressed their support.

This widespread support across agriculture industries can partially be attributed to active participation in sponsoring the bill.

“Throughout the U.S., agriculture is experiencing a critical shortage of labor that jeopardizes our ability to continue producing an abundant, safe and affordable domestic food supply," said Western Growers in a statement on Thursday.

"Securing a reliable and skilled workforce is critical to the future viability of America’s family farms."

This bill is said to do just that.

Western Growers said that nearly 300 agricultural groups and labor organizations have expressed their backing. Considered a critical step, the legislation gives farmers a compromise for longstanding labor concerns.

What does the Farm Workforce Modernization Act propose?

The bipartisan bill, which has 29 Democratic and 23 Republican sponsors, has been in negotiation for months. Lead authors Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and Congressman Dan Newhouse introduced the bill after speaking with various stakeholders and labor associations.

Introduced in late October, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act is a response to calls from the farming industry for a reliable and legal workforce. It has not yet been signed into law.

As this act will provide legal status for the current workforce, its immigration reform is something the farming industry has long advocated for.

It reforms the current H-2A  guestworker program, a piece of legislation which provides temporary agriculture work. This federal guestworker program most often involves Mexican workers filling gaps in domestic labor.

President emeritus of United Farmworkers commented that this creates "a way for undocumented workers to apply for legal status and a roadmap to earn citizenship in the future without compromising farm workers’ existing wages and legal protections".

The new bill also creates stability, predictability and fairness in agriculture, according to Lofgren's website.

United Fresh was a part of efforts to garner cosponsors.

"This legislation represents the most significant modernization of the agricultural labor system in more than three decades," it commented.

It was built with three main points in mind; earned status for agricultural workers, improving the H-2A program and mandatory e-verification for the agricultural sector.

Moving forward, the U.S. Apple Association spoke out about the importance of time for the bill.

“Time is of the essence and our growers cannot wait another harvest season for relief.  We urge Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to schedule a vote by the full House of Representatives this calendar year," it said.

Bipartisan approval of the "common-sense" bill

Along with industry support, politicians received the bill positively.

Representative Mario Díaz-Balart stated, "is essential not only for our economy but for our national security. For far too long, we’ve suffered from a broken H2A system—making it difficult for farmers to hire the workforce necessary to provide to the American people.”

"It wasn't easy and the legislation still needs to be signed into law, but the Farm Workforce Modernization Act is a big step in the right direction", added Democrat Jimmy Panetta.

The act's compromise is "common-sense" according to Republican Rep. Doug LaMalfa.

It "addresses these issues in a bipartisan manner that will provide some much-needed certainty. It does so by modernizing the H-2A program, stabilizing wages, and instituting a merit-based system for agricultural workers to eventually earn legal status", stated LaMalfa.

 

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