A recent farm labor reform roundtable brought together Senate leadership, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and farm and farmworker organizations. The group discussed the need for change as detailed in the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (FWMA). Recently passed on a bipartisan basis in the U.S. House, the bill contains several features supported by the farming community. In attendance was President and CEO of Western Growers, Dave Puglia who said the meeting was very productive and encouraging.
“We all came into the room hoping we would have an infusion of energy and focus to get a sense of the Senate’s desire to move on this legislation and how we would actually help get it moving,” said Puglia. “We just need them to get going. So, today I thought was a really good and large step forward in that process.”
During the farm labor reform roundtable, Senators Michael Bennet and Mike Crapo heard from industry members about the need for legislative solutions to the ag labor issue. The two senators will be taking the lead on developing a companion bill to the FWMA. The legislation contains two significant components that will benefit the agriculture industry, which supporters hope will be included in the Senate version of the bill.
“That bill was carefully negotiated and vetted by those of us in agriculture and the folks representing farm labor interests,” Puglia noted. “We feel very, very good about that bill.”
The FWMA would provide legal status for existing ag workers, providing a conditional ag worker Visa that would be renewable every five years. Dairy operations would also have access to the program for year-round availability of workers. The House-passed version of the bill also freezes H-2A wages for a year and puts a cap on year-over-year increases for 10 years.
“That gives employers predictability. You can book that you will be paying that amount in wages for H-2A workers for at least a decade,” Puglia explained. “We still would see increases in the H-2A wage, but they would be moderated.”