Jul 6, 2023
Ag labor bill introduced for third time
A bipartisan group in the U.S. House of Representatives has reintroduced the Farm Workforce Modernization Act for the third time, seeking a workforce solution to the labor-stressed specialty crop industry and other farm sectors.
The legislation passed in 2019 and 2021 but the Senate failed to advance a corresponding bill and the effort died. The Senate’s Affordable and Secure Food Act found no traction in late 2022 and the only possibility of the legislation’s passage, inclusion in an omnibus spending bill, did not happen.
The bill updates the H-2A agricultural guest worker program and is a compromise solution that provides needed stability for farms and farmworkers, according to Zoe Lofgren (D-California), one of the representatives who reintroduced the bill.
“In the past few years, we’ve seen labor shortages contribute to high food prices,” Lofgren said in a news release. “If it wasn’t obvious before, the pandemic made clear that our country’s agricultural workforce rules are in dire need of reform. The men and women who work America’s farms feed the nation.”
The other U.S. representatives who reintroduced the Farm Workforce Modernization Act are:
- Salud Carbajal (D-California)
- Jim Costa (D-California)
- Henry Cuellar (D-Texas)
- John Duarte (R-California)
- Jerrold Nadler (D-New York)
- Dan Newhouse (R-Washington)
- Jimmy Panetta (D-California)
- Mike Simpson (R-Idaho)
- David Valadao (R-California)
“The top concern for farmers and ranchers in Central Washington and across the nation is labor, and the problem is only getting worse,” Newhouse said in the release. “As a third-generation farmer, I know first-hand how challenging it is for the agriculture industry to hire and retain labor so we can continue to feed America and the world.”
The bill was negotiated over eight months in 2019 with input from farmers, agricultural stakeholders, labor organizations and farmworker advocates. In December 2019, it became the first agriculture labor reform legislation to pass the House of Representatives since 1986. Since its passage, a bipartisan coalition of Congressional members has been working to move the bill through the legislative process.
According to the release, the bill:
- Reforms the H-2A program to provide more flexibility for employers, while ensuring protections for workers.
- Establishes a program for agricultural workers to earn legal status through continued agricultural employment.
- 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.
Support for the bill
Dave Puglia, president and CEO of Western Growers, thanked the representatives for reintroducing the legislation.
“Many of us have spent tireless hours negotiating this bipartisan legislation and we commend this reintroduction and look forward to continuing to work toward a viable solution for agriculture,” Puglia said in the release.
“Providing a path to legal residency for the men and women who work to put food on our dinner tables is long overdue,” Costa said in the release. “California’s farming communities have dealt with worker shortages for years, a problem that got worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. These workers feed Americans and deserve a path to legal residency.”
Carbajal said he worked alongside his father in the fields and witnessed the sacrifices ag laborers endure.
“I have spoken with growers about the devastating labor shortages caused by seasonal labor restrictions and complex program applications,” Carbajal said in the release. “By providing earned legal status for existing farmworkers and modernizing the guest worker program, this groundbreaking, bipartisan bill is a major step in reforming our immigration system and providing long term industry sustainability.”
Teresa Romero, president of United Farm Workers, said the group’s view is simple: “If you feed America you have earned the right to stay in America.”
“Legal status for these essential immigrant workers is long overdue and we ask all members of Congress to work for its passage,” she said in the release.