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A glimmer of hope for ag labor reform

Side view of the front of the US capitol building.

A bipartisan compromise bill for immigration reform appears dead, according to news reports, but a separate, smaller farm worker bill is in the works.

International Fresh Produce Association’s BB #:378962 Director of Workforce/Labor John Hollay says he’s optimistic the bill will provide relief for the produce industry.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) is sponsoring the Affordable and Secure Food Act, introduced December 15, which would reform the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR); establish earned legal status for agriculture workers; reform the H-2A ag worker program by providing visas for year-round jobs; and implement mandatory E-Verify for all ag employment.

“Agriculture would be the only industry in the country to use E-Verify,” Hollay said.

The process for the bill to become a law is relatively simple, as far as Congress goes. Hollay said the bill would need 60 votes of approval from the Senate, and it would be attached as an amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act to an omnibus funding bill that has to be approved by the end of the year to fund the federal government.

Congress has Christmas recess scheduled to start December 22 through January 2, and the new Congress begins January 3, in which anything from the current Congress that wasn’t passed would have to start from scratch.

As of December 15, the bill has no Republican co-sponsor, but Hollay said he and IFPA members and staff have been in contact with Republican Senators who they think may support such a bill.

For decades, the two parties have been unable to come to any compromise‘ on immigration reform, as Democrats have never found a border security measure they support and Republicans have never found support for any reform bill that grants legal status to those in the U.S. illegally, something they refer to as “amnesty.”

The Bennet bill has a provision for a path to legal status for ag workers, but Hollay says the mandatory E-Verify might be enough to overcome Republican objections. With a 50-50 split on parties, it would be need at least 10 Republicans to support it and all Democrats.

Bennet held a press conference December 15 to introduce the bill, and he was joined by worker groups as well as business groups, including IFPA and the U.S. Apple Association BB #:145473.

Hollay said it’s a bill that neither side would write themselves but has compromises that labor and business interests can support.

He said the timing is urgent because Congress has to pass a spending bill before they leave, or the government will shut down.

We’ll soon know if ag labor reform will be part of it.


Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services