The ag labor bill known as the Farm Workforce Modernization Act was passed by the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 18-12 last week. The next step in the process will be an introduction and vote by the full U.S. House of Representatives. The legislation calls for adjustments to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program while providing legal status to undocumented farmworkers. Thus far, the legislation has been receiving fairly even support from both political parties.
“This bipartisan bill, which has 29 Democratic and 23 Republican co-sponsors, has been carefully crafted through a series of difficult stakeholder-driven negotiations,” Western Growers President & CEO Tom Nassif said in a press release. “The Farm Workforce Modernization Act contains real solutions to the labor crisis facing the industry.”
The ag labor bill would provide renewable visas for the agricultural workers who are in the county illegally, and also freeze wages for H-2A workers and limit annual increases to less than four percent through 2030. A letter signed by nearly 300 organizations, including more than 50 organizations based in California, was sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy urging them to move the bill forward.
“While the bill does include a few provisions that raise significant concerns for the agricultural community, we are committed to working together throughout the legislative process to fully address these issues,” the letter stated.
The advancement of the legislation was not celebrated by the entire agricultural industry. The bill has received some criticism from industry stakeholders for not adequately addressing labor costs, as well as mandating the E-Verify system. American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall expressed concern that the bill needs amendments to better serve agriculture. “We need a program that U.S. farmers and ranchers can afford and that allows them to remain competitive in the long term with foreign imports,” said Duvall.