Bipartisan Farmworker Bill Supported by Ag Leaders

Will the U.S. Senate vote in favor of the farm labor bill? The agricultural industry congratulated the U.S. House of Representatives for having passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act that revises the H-2A ag worker program and provides growers with a more reliable labor outlook by securing temporary status for workers, with the possibility for a permanent residency in the U.S.

But the future of the law remained uncertain because it is now up to the Senate to debate the bill for approval and it is unknown whether President Donald Trump will support the legislation.

On December 11, the US House of Representatives voted 260-165 in favor of the bill aimed at resolving the chronic shortage of labor that has affected agriculture for years.

Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-CA-19), Dan Newhouse (R-WA-04), Collin Peterson (D-MN-07), Mike Simpson (R-ID-02), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA-20), Doug LaMalfa (R-CA-01), and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL-25) introduced the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (HR 4916), which was negotiated over several months with input from agricultural stakeholders and labor organizations. The bill was introduced with the bipartisan support of 24 Democrats and 20 Republicans.

The bill has garnered the wide-spread support of nearly 250 agriculture groups and labor organizations, according to a press release from the office of Representative Lofgren.

“The men and women who work America’s farms feed the nation. But, farmworkers across the country are living and working with uncertainty and fear, contributing to the destabilization of farms across the nation,” said Rep. Lofgren. “Our bill offers stability for American farms by providing a path to legal status for farmworkers. Also, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act addresses the nation’s future labor needs by modernizing an outdated system for temporary workers while ensuring fair wages and workplace conditions.”

The Proposed Farmworker Bill is Based on Three Main Titles

  1. Earned Status for Certified Agricultural Workers:
    Establish a program for agricultural workers, their spouses and minor children to earn legal status through continued agricultural employment and contribution to the U.S. agricultural economy.
  2. Improves the H-2A Program:
    To provide more flexibility for employers, while ensuring critical protections for workers. The bill focuses on modifications to make the program more responsive and user-friendly for employers and provides access to the program for industries with year-round labor needs.
  3. Mandatory E-Verify for the Agricultural Sector:
    Establish a mandatory, nationwide E-Verify system for all agricultural employment with a structured phase-in and guaranteed due process for authorized workers who are incorrectly rejected by the system.

The California Farm Bureau Federation, representing nearly 36,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of nearly 5.6 million Farm Bureau members, said it supports the bipartisan bill.

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“This comprehensive legislation contains key elements that address current and future workforce needs for agricultural employers and employees in California and throughout the nation,” CFBF President Jamie Johansson said in a statement. “The reforms in the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 will provide much-needed solutions for agricultural employers and employees.”

The bill could give legal status to some 325,000 immigrant farmworkers

“For too long, the fresh produce industry has suffered under a system that fails to meet the labor needs of our industry,” said United Fresh Produce Association President and CEO Tom Stenzel. “Passage of this legislation represents an important step in ending decades of uncertainty for growers of fresh fruits and vegetables”.

“After months of negotiations, the UFW and the UFW Foundation are enthusiastic about passing legislation that honors all farmworkers who feed America by creating a way for undocumented workers to apply for legal status and a roadmap to earn citizenship in the future without compromising farmworkers’ existing wages and legal protections. Understanding that compromise is required to meaningfully improve the lives of immigrant field laborers, it is our hope this will be the first time the House of Representatives, under the leadership of either party, will approve an agricultural immigration bill,” said Arturo S. Rodriguez, President Emeritus of United Farmworkers & Spokesperson of UFW Foundation.

Other agricultural leaders expressed their support to the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.

“We have supported numerous efforts to address dairy’s acute labor needs. Passing legislation in the House is a critical step in the process.  We urge the Senate to work with us on this important issue so we can get an ag worker bill across the finish line in this Congress,” said Jim Mulhern, President and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF).

The Western Growers Association was also pleased with the introduction of the Act. The association’s president and CEO Tom Nassif said: “The act addresses two critical needs for American agriculture – to retain existing, experienced workers and to ensure a reliable future flow of guest workers. Furthermore, after a satisfactory transition period, the bill includes E-Verify for agricultural employers, demonstrating the commitment our industry has made toward a long-term labor solution”.