Sifting Through Labor Issues

Mas Labor’s
Libby Whitley

As federal agencies, labor recruiters and employer agents gathered in Dallas at the end of October to discuss the H-2 visa programs, a renowned labor expert offered her thoughts on the demand for temporary non-immigrant labor and outlined the ways employers can hire reliable workers in a difficult economy.

Libby Whitley, president of MasLabor, is actively involved in legislative and regulatory matters affecting both the H-2A agricultural and H-2B non-agricultural seasonal labor programs. She was the only employers’ agent invited by federal officials to speak at the second annual H-2 forum held Oct. 28-29, 2008.

Most of Whitley’s career has been devoted to labor issues, from work in Congress and the White House, to handling legislative matters for the American Farm Bureau and running the national Council of Agricultural Employers. A no-nonsense businesswoman, Whitley sees overreaching government intrusion and confusing, often contradictory regulations, as the greatest obstacles separating U.S. employers from the seasonal laborers they desperately need to survive.

In a far-ranging conversation aboard an airplane to the forum in Texas, Whitley shared her thoughts on the state of H-2 and what MasLabor is doing to give employers peace of mind.

Q: What is the purpose of the forum and why did you attend?

A: There are infrequent opportunities to meet with regulators to talk about these H-2A and H-2B programs. Fifteen years ago, the Department of Labor (Doc) and the Immigration and Naturalization Service were eager to meet with us. Now the DOL has basically shut its doors. We want to reestablish a rapport by having some face time with regulators. We might even point out some ideas for improving the process, making it work better for employers.

Q: Why?

A: It ends up being a validation of what we do. We find that a competent, experienced agent can provide expertise where it wouldn’t otherwise exist. These are complicated programs, with bureaucrats telling employers what they can and cannot do. An employer who uses the H-2 programs should have the benefit of an expert who understands these programs from the employer’s perspective. If not used correctly, the H-2A program can implicate an entire workforce for benefits the employer was unprepared to offer.

Q: That’s where MasLabor comes in?

A: We support the employer through the duration of the employment period. We consider ourselves to be a working partner who understands an employer’s complicated and time-sensitive labor needs. Then we solve those needs.

Q: How will the economy affect the H-2 visa program?

A: That’s a good question. The agricultural industry is less susceptible to economic ups and downs facing other U.S. industries. The question is whether the rising unemployment rate will impact the H-2A program if greater numbers of American workers seek agricultural employment. We believe the vast majority of farmers will continue to use the H-2A program for two reasons: American workers traditionally have not been interested in hard farm labor, and the H-2A program is the only legal alternative for non-immigrant seasonal labor.

Q: And the foreign workers benefit?

A: Absolutely. The H-2 program is one of the few areas where immigration law actually functions to the benefit of everyone involved. For H2 workers, there’s none of the danger and uncertainty of an illegal border crossing. Most H2 workers arrive at their employers’ locations on a chartered, air-conditioned bus. They are serious breadwinners who choose to live away from their families during their U.S. employers’ busy season in order to provide their families with a better quality of life. For Mexican workers, seven to nine dollars an hour is up to 10 times what could be earned in most jobs at home. H2 wages can transform lives.

The H2 program also works other ways, especially compared to the effects of lax border security, illegal immigration and uncertain worker legality. H2 visa programs are the only legal way of matching selected foreign workers with the seasonal needs of U.S. businesses. State and federal agencies verify that the employer pays fair wages and that U.S. workers are not available to fill the jobs. Foreign workers are then admitted on temporary visas to work only for that employer and then return home. It typically takes at least 80 days to work through the complex, multi-stage H-2A process; more for H-2B. We try to encourage the employers we work with to let us know their labor needs at least 120 days before they need workers. That way, we can do our best work on their behalf.

Q: How does MasLabor figure into this equation?

A: We manage the application process start to finish, representing the U.S. employer. The progress from the application through ground transportation to the job site is monitored continuously, and our employers are kept up-to-date so they know when their workers are going to arrive.

Worldwide, our team works with the most competent and ethical recruiters in this industry. We are in regular contact with the U.S. State Department consulates in every country where we recruit workers, so that we and everyone we work with are current on the latest H2 visa issuance procedures. We help employers find workers from any country in the world. Our dedicated recruiting resources are based in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Eastern Europe and South Africa. So whatever an employer’s specific needs might be, we can come up with the best solution.

Q: Critics of the H-2 programs say non-immigrant laborers just want a means of getting into the United States to take American jobs.

A: I think the first issue that people should understand is H-2 is available only after an employer shows federal labor officials that there are not enough American workers to do these jobs. We are constantly hearing stories from employers about U.S. workers who apply for a job, but never show up or work only a few days and quit when they find out what life on a farm or in other seasonal employment is like.

As for the idea that Mexican laborers are just looking for a way into the United States, the numbers tell a different story. There is a common misconception that “everyone” wants to be a U.S. citizen. One reason that illegal immigration is such a problem is that it separates families. Illegals can’t afford to pay coyotes (human smugglers) thousands of dollars to get smuggled into the U.S. to subsequently return home for a visit. They get trapped in the United States. They often start second families here and lose the family they left behind. The pathologies of illegal immigration are tragic. Entire villages in Mexico and Central America have been impoverished by the permanent departure of most of their working-age men.

The H2 program eliminates these pathologies. They provide workers solid employment opportunities, allowing them to save and send substantial money home, and permit the workers to safely and legally come to the United States and then return home at the end of the season. They can do this for as many years as they wish.

While there are differences between cultures, our experience shows that a good employer can expect an H2 worker to work for an average of seven or eight years in the program, returning year after year. After that time, they have earned enough money to take their next step in their home country, from buying a farm or a store to starting another kind of business. Now that’s a reliable laborer. And quite frankly, that’s also the American way.

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Sifting Through Labor Issues

  1. Ross,
    You are right on! There is a way to end this madness and if the American people would listen to the people who know the country would be better off and we could end our slavery!
    Let’s pray that we all have a strong spring this season and we can keep our jobs and businesses.
    We can not look to our elected officials to help us. They are the problem. To survive the current conditions in our global economy we must get creative and offer the best products at the best prices we can so everyone in the supply chain can countinue on towards the future. Hopefully eveyone in the supply chain will work together to insure the future.
    ??????????????????????????????? ??????????????????f????????????????????????Y??Y?????????????????????

  2. Ross,
    You are right on! There is a way to end this madness and if the American people would listen to the people who know the country would be better off and we could end our slavery!
    Let’s pray that we all have a strong spring this season and we can keep our jobs and businesses.
    We can not look to our elected officials to help us. They are the problem. To survive the current conditions in our global economy we must get creative and offer the best products at the best prices we can so everyone in the supply chain can countinue on towards the future. Hopefully eveyone in the supply chain will work together to insure the future.
    ??????????????????????????????? ??????????????????f????????????????????????Y??Y?????????????????????

More From Finance/Operations...
Laura Drotleff

December 6, 2016

Are You Driving Young Growers Away? [Opinion]

In a time when the industry is facing a critical shortage of both labor and skilled, educated growers, it's important that grower operations don't unwittingly turn candidates off to a career at their business or in the industry in general. Take a closer look at your hiring practices to ensure you are being inclusive and not breaking any laws.

Read More
Trays move on an overhead conveyor to the end of the production line, where workers carefully pack the cleaned, sized, graded, counted and sorted Calla tubers

November 29, 2016

Texas Judge Halts Overtime Rule; Here’s What It Means For Greenhouse Growers

According to Craig Regelbrugge at AmericanHort, the injunction against the overtime rule is welcome news for horticulture.

Read More
Craig Regelbrugge, senior vice president of AmericanHort - Feature image

October 25, 2016

Contribute To HRI To Help Honor Industry Advocate Craig Regelbrugge

In honor of Craig Regelbrugge's extraordinary contributions to the horticultural industry, AmericanHort and the Horticultural Research Initiative created a special HRI endowment fund in his name: "The Craig Regelbrugge - Advocates for Horticulture Fund."

Read More
Latest Stories
Laura Drotleff

December 6, 2016

Are You Driving Young Growers Away? [Opinion]

In a time when the industry is facing a critical shortage of both labor and skilled, educated growers, it's important that grower operations don't unwittingly turn candidates off to a career at their business or in the industry in general. Take a closer look at your hiring practices to ensure you are being inclusive and not breaking any laws.

Read More
Trays move on an overhead conveyor to the end of the production line, where workers carefully pack the cleaned, sized, graded, counted and sorted Calla tubers

November 29, 2016

Texas Judge Halts Overtime Rule; Here’s What It Means F…

According to Craig Regelbrugge at AmericanHort, the injunction against the overtime rule is welcome news for horticulture.

Read More
Craig Regelbrugge, senior vice president of AmericanHort - Feature image

October 25, 2016

Contribute To HRI To Help Honor Industry Advocate Craig…

In honor of Craig Regelbrugge's extraordinary contributions to the horticultural industry, AmericanHort and the Horticultural Research Initiative created a special HRI endowment fund in his name: "The Craig Regelbrugge - Advocates for Horticulture Fund."

Read More
Lucas Greenhouses Shipping

October 6, 2016

Greenhouse Shipping Costs Down, But Concerns Remain

Lower gas prices have led to lower shipping costs for some growers, but many continue to seek out ways to become more efficient.

Read More
Pansy ‘Cool Wave Blue Skies’ (Wave)

September 20, 2016

PanAmerican Seed Settles Alleged Trade Sanction Violati…

PanAmerican Seed, a division of Ball Horticultural Co., has been charged with violating trade sanctions to Iran over a number of years. According to a release from the U.S. Treasury department, PanAmerican Seed made 48 indirect sales of seeds to two Iranian distributors. The company shipped the seed to consignees based in countries in Europe and the Middle East. PanAmerican Seed’s customers then arranged for the re-exportation of the seeds to Iran. The release states that the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) determined PanAmerican Seed did not voluntarily self-disclose the alleged violations to OFAC, constituting an egregious case. “We believe that the settlement was extreme; however the alternative was to litigate with the U.S. government, which would take months, if not years,” says Todd Billings, Chief Financial Officer for Ball Horticultural Co. When asked what Ball Horticultural Co. has done to ensure that violations to trade sanctions do not […]

Read More
young-plants

September 20, 2016

The Top Young Plant Growers, And Four Critical Challeng…

In Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Top Young Plant Growers Survey, growers discuss the latest challenges and opportunities in fulfillment, shipping, labor, and crop protection.

Read More
Cavicchio Greenhouses

September 6, 2016

Cavicchio Greenhouses Wins Inaugural Sustainability Awa…

The Sudbury, MA, growing operation sustains more than 250 acres of annuals, perennials, and nursery stock, with a number of practices to mitigate its impact on the environment.

Read More
Charlie Hall Feature Image

September 6, 2016

10 Insights From Charlie Hall’s Green Industry Economic…

With the uncertain current economic climate, Texas A&M economist Charlie Hall says now may be the perfect time to invest — as long as you do it smartly.

Read More
Penn State Plant Bud

August 23, 2016

AmericanHort Is Helping Plant Importers Adjust To New R…

A report from Craig Regelbrugge at AmericanHort says the government is implementing a streamlined system for imports, in which all required data will be submitted electronically through a single window.

Read More
Plug Connection Assortment

August 9, 2016

AmericanHort’s Plug And Cutting Conference Will Feature…

This year’s conference, which takes place Sept. 19-21 in Carlsbad, CA, features discussions on water, pest and disease control, and production inputs, as well as a biocontrols workshop and tour of local cuttings facilities.

Read More
Cannabis In Greenhouse

July 27, 2016

The Top 5 Myths About Cannabis Production Cleared Up

There is a lot of misleading information going around about growing cannabis. Industry insider James Lowe makes sure you know the truth about cannabis production.

Read More
Joe Bischoff

July 26, 2016

SAF Partners With Cornerstone Government Affairs To Adv…

A new partnership between the Society of American Florists (SAF) and Cornerstone Government Affairs ensures that SAF will continue its highly effective work advocating for issues that affect the floriculture industry. “SAF and Cornerstone together provide experienced voices on Capitol Hill to protect our growers’ interests,” says SAF CEO Peter Moran. “We’ll continue to move major policy priorities forward on behalf of small business and agriculture.” Cornerstone is a public affairs firm specializing in government relations, strategic consulting, and advocacy. Its team of more than 50 senior professionals includes former senior professional staff from both authorization and appropriations committees and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), as well as veterans of the horticulture industry. Agricultural and horticultural issues of primary concern to SAF members include access to labor, immigration, crop protection, international trade and other matters related to the day-to-day operations of growers. Before she retired this year, SAF lobbyist Lin […]

Read More

July 26, 2016

AFE Releases New Videos Highlighting Industry Successes

The American Floral Endowment (AFE) recently released five new videos, created to highlight floriculture successes through industry collaboration, support, and participation. “Each video shares real stories from industry members on career development through scholarships and internships, and true examples of research solutions that have shaped how the industry operates today,” says Laura Shinall, President of Syndicate Sales, Inc., and AFE Public Relations and Development Chair. “We’re excited to be able to share some great success stories in an effort to increase industry participation.” The introductory video “Heard of the American Floral Endowment?” helps educate those who aren’t currently aware of AFE’s programs, while other segmented videos (retail, wholesale, grower) share how Endowment programs complement each group and why it’s so important that everyone in the industry participates: Retail Florists Share Why They Turn to AFE New Resources for Floral Wholesalers and Suppliers AFE Helping Growers Profit Ready for a Career in Floriculture or Horticulture? […]

Read More
Briscoe White, Growers Exchange

July 6, 2016

The Grower’s Exchange Unlocks The Secret to E-Commerce

In the Internet era, Briscoe and Kenan White knew they had to adapt or die and specialize to survive. Here’s how they took The Grower’s Exchange online.

Read More
Brie Arthur

July 6, 2016

5 Can’t-Miss Events To Watch For At Farwest 2016

Whether it’s classes on biocontrols and gardening trends, or networking opportunities in and around the trade show floor, there’s plenty happening at Farwest 2016 in Portland, OR, in August.

Read More
Cannabis states 2016

July 1, 2016

Adult Use Of Cannabis On The Ballot In 2016

25 states have legalized cannabis and public opinion is increasingly positive. Here’s where things may be headed as we move toward the fall elections.

Read More
Practical Software Grower Vertical

June 18, 2016

Practical Software Solutions Increases Accessibility, E…

Practical Software will demonstrate Grower Vertical, its customizable and scalable enterprise management system for the horticulture industry, at Cultivate’16 in July.

Read More
Battlefield Farms Company shot

June 14, 2016

Battlefield Farms Is A Finalist For 2016 Operation Of T…

Battlefield Farms in Rapidan, VA, is one of three finalists for Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Operation Of The Year award and winner of the Excellence In Innovation award for 2016.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]