Monday, 22 July 2024

Senators introduce AgJOBS bill to address labor shortage

Toni Scully of Scully Packing Co. was on hand as U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Larry Craig (R-Idaho), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and George Voinovich (R-Ohio) introduced the AgJOBS bill.


AgJOBS would establish a pilot earned adjustment program for agriculture workers, which would help to ease the severe worker shortage being experienced by frustrated farmers across the country.


Scully was among dozens of other agriculturalists – both growers and farmworkers – at Wednesday's introduction. Others in attendance included representatives of United Farm Workers, National Council of La Raza, the California Farm Bureau, California Grape & Tree Fruit League, California Association of Winegrape Growers, New England Apple Council, United Fresh Produce Association, National Council of Agricultural Employers and National Milk Producers Federation.


“Today, many American farmers are on a precipice. And whether they survive to plant another season is determined largely on one simple question: will there be enough workers to bring in the harvest?” Senator Feinstein said. “There are plenty of people willing and able to do the work. And these workers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”


Feinstein explained that AgJOBS is a two-part bill. One part would create a pilot program to identify undocumented agricultural workers and legalize the immigration status for those who have been working in the United States for the past two years or more. The second part would create a more usable H-2A program to implement a realistic and effective guest worker program.


Kennedy said last year the Senate came together in a bipartisan manner to pass far-reaching immigration reform legislation, which included the AgJOBS bill.


“The agricultural industry would grind to a halt without immigrant farm workers,” Kennedy said. “America has a proud tradition as a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws. But our current immigration laws fail us on both counts.”


Martinez said Florida's $8.5 billion citrus industry lost a third of its crop, which went unpicked due to labor shortages.


Likewise, this past summer Lake County pear farmers faced a devastating labor shortage.


Steve Hajik, Lake County's agriculture commissioner, said 25 percent of the local pear crop went unharvested because there were not enough workers.

 

In 2005, Hajik said, local pear growers suffered due to lack of a crop, and hoped to make up for it the following year.


Hajik said the 2006 crop did turn out to be very strong, and then the labor shortage hit. “They had a heck of a crop and they couldn't harvest it,” he said.


California is the single largest agriculture state in the nation with over $34 billion in annual revenue and approximately 76,500 farms.


Approximately one million undocumented workers harvest the crops in California each year, with as much as 90 percent of the farm labor payroll made up by undocumented workers. In 2006, growers in California reported that their harvesting crews were down by as much as 20 percent.


“The costs are in the stratosphere: if the labor shortage continues, it means $3 billion a year in the short term and as much as $4.1 billion a year in the long-term. Just in California,” Feinstein said.


The bill would offer undocumented agriculture workers a “blue card” if they can demonstrate having worked in American agriculture for at least 150 work days over the previous two years.


Among the blue card's benefits: it would entitle workers to a temporary legal resident status; allow them to travel in and out of the United States; make their spouses and minor children eligible for cards if they already live in the U.S.; and allow them to work in non-agriculture jobs as long as certain requirements were met.


The total number of blue cards would be capped at 1.5 million over a five-year period, and the program would sunset after five years.


Similar language was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee during the 109 th Congress and was included in the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

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