Bush Administration Proposes Agricultural Worker Reform

Here is the special report from the Society of American Florists (SAF) on the issue:  

Administration Proposes New H-2A Regulations–Important Effort Falls Short of Solving Farm Labor Crisis

As expected, the Bush Administration announced on Wednesday a wide-ranging proposal to administratively reform the H-2A program. In a joint media briefing by Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, and Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner, two separate sets of regulations have been proposed for public comment: the Department of Labor’s proposals to "modernize" the program and Homeland Security proposals on the hiring process itself.

In a statement on the proposed revisions, the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform (ACIR), of which SAF is a long-time, active member, said, "We applaud the Administration for responding to the current labor crisis by throwing the industry a regulatory ‘lifeline’" but emphasized that some problems can only be remedied by changes to existing law. "We urge Congress to recognize the serious problems facing agriculture, as has the Administration, and to act now to pass a legislative solution, AgJOBS."

As most Week in Review readers know, the H-2A program is the temporary agricultural worker program for growers and producers in most agricultural industries. Those employers face an increasingly severe shortage of available domestic workers who are able, willing, and qualified to fill seasonal agricultural jobs. The proposed rules are extremely lengthy and complex. At first glance, the new rules are a mixed bag featuring some positive changes and others which deeply concern SAF.

The current H-2A program is unpopular with employers — only about two percent of agricultural workers come in under the H-2A program. Employers do not use the program because it is expensive, litigious and bureaucratic. In the face of increased enforcement and a decreasing labor force, the inability to secure sufficient workers means that crops are rotting in the field in many industries. Floriculture producers also are affected. One of the many problems with the current system is that the Department of Labor consistently fails to meet its own deadlines required by law, therefore farmers cannot depend on the program’s promise to provide the correct number of workers at the correct time.

The new regulations being proposed would provide some relief, but in other areas raise serious concerns. On one hand the new rules include changing the process employers must go through to apply for workers, making it less burdensome. However, the proposal also would allow the Labor Department to start random audits of H-2A employers, and increase the fines from $1,000 to $15,000 for employers who have displaced American workers by hiring foreign ones. Other fines would increase for violating regulations from $1,000 to $5,000. In addition, under the proposed changes, wages would be based on "skill levels" and the wage formulas are changed.

"This is not the solution," said New York farm owner Maureen Torrey a former chairman of United Fresh Produce, also an ACIR member. "It could be part of a short-term solution …. But we need real immigration reform to give us a workable guestworker program. We need action by Congress."

According to government estimates, only about 75,000 workers participate in the H-2A program. Of the nation’s 1.6 million farmworkers, some 70 percent are estimated to be without legal status. The proposed regulatory fix cannot address all of those workers.

SAF continues to support the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act (AgJOBS) legislation (S. 340 and H.R. 371), to make long term statutory reforms to the H-2A program agreed to by both labor and business. The bipartisan compromises reached in the AgJOBS legislation would reform the H-2A program, but also would allow for an earned legalization of existing workers which would bring workers out from the underground economy and provide time to transition into a workable H-2A guestworker program.

The labor situation has grown increasingly desperate as communities continue to pass, and enforce, a patchwork of state and local legislation across the country. For a decade, SAF has been working with ANLA and other agriculture organizations on immigration reform. AgJOBS has wide support by farmworker advocates as well as business groups. It continues to enjoy strong support in the House and Senate, including Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-28-CA) who are making renewed efforts to find a way to pass the legislation this year. The challenges are huge, however, given that it is an election year and that talk show hosts continue to portray any legislation allowing legalization as "amnesty," despite employers’ and mainstream media efforts to provide more factual information.

SAF appreciates the Administration’s efforts to improve the situation for H-2A users and prospective users. However the proposal is long, complex and needs careful review. SAF remains committed to a legislative overhaul, since H-2A reform alone cannot address the breadth and depth of the agricultural labor crisis. If Congress fails to act, employers will face a plethora of state and local laws, increased enforcement, and a new "No-Match" rule, which is expected shortly. SAF believes the nation’s employers and much of the nation’s farm economy are at risk.

Congressional Action Days Are Almost Here

SAF’s 28th Annual Congressional Action Days will take place on Feb. 25-26, 2008, in Washington, D.C. Congressman Jim Walsh (R -25-NY) has been added as the featured speaker for the Grassroots Breakfast from 7:30 to 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 26. Congressman Walsh is the Ranking Member of the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Appropriations Subcommittee. As a long-time member of the House Appropriations Committee, he has been instrumental in supporting funding for the Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative. He is a co-sponsor of AgJOBS, as well.

Congressman Adam Putnam (R-12-FL) will be the featured speaker at the SAFPAC Gold Club Luncheon from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 26. Rep. Putnam is in his fourth term and is chairman of the Republican Conference. Rep. Putnam also serves on the Capital Markets, Insurance and Government Sponsored Enterprises Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee. Congressman Putnam is a strong supporter both of AgJOBS and of the specialty crop programs of the New Farm Bill.

There is still time to register for Congressional Action Days. Get more information at www.safnow.org or contact Laura Weaver, CMP at 800-336-4743, lweaver@safnow.org.

Leave a Reply

More From ...
Gaillardia x grandiflora 'Arizona Apricot'

February 25, 2015

National Garden Bureau Designates 2015 As Year Of The Gaillardia

Gaillardia, also known as the blanket flower, is a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) and a long-blooming pollinator plant. It is fitting that the National Garden Bureau has specified 2015 as The Year of the Gaillardia.

Read More
IPPS Sharing Plant Production Knowledge Globally Logo

February 25, 2015

International Plant Propagators Western Region Sets Annual Meeting Date

The annual meet for the International Plant Propagators' Society (IPPS) Western Region has been set for this September. It will take place September 23 to 26 in Modesto, Calif., and will include learning sessions, tours to local nurseries, a research poster display and poster presentations, various networking opportunities and an awards banquet to close the event.

Read More
Evolvulus Blue My Mind

February 24, 2015

Blue Ribbon Bloomers For Greenhouse Production

Grow what consumers want! Surveys show that blue is one of the top preferred colors of today’s consumers. Here are twelve top recommended blue-flowering Proven Winners annuals and perennials to suit your spring production cycle.

Read More
Latest Stories
Gaillardia x grandiflora 'Arizona Apricot'

February 25, 2015

National Garden Bureau Designates 2015 As Year Of The G…

Gaillardia, also known as the blanket flower, is a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) and a long-blooming pollinator plant. It is fitting that the National Garden Bureau has specified 2015 as The Year of the Gaillardia.

Read More
IPPS Sharing Plant Production Knowledge Globally Logo

February 25, 2015

International Plant Propagators Western Region Sets Ann…

The annual meet for the International Plant Propagators' Society (IPPS) Western Region has been set for this September. It will take place September 23 to 26 in Modesto, Calif., and will include learning sessions, tours to local nurseries, a research poster display and poster presentations, various networking opportunities and an awards banquet to close the event.

Read More
Evolvulus Blue My Mind

February 24, 2015

Blue Ribbon Bloomers For Greenhouse Production

Grow what consumers want! Surveys show that blue is one of the top preferred colors of today’s consumers. Here are twelve top recommended blue-flowering Proven Winners annuals and perennials to suit your spring production cycle.

Read More
myers industries Lawn and Garden Logo

February 24, 2015

Myers Industries, Inc. Lawn And Garden Business Sold, N…

The management of Myers Lawn and Garden Group, along with Wingate Partners V, L.P. have recently acquired the Myers Industries, Inc. Lawn and Garden business. The new company is named The HC Companies, and will continue as a North American leading provider of horticulture containers supplying the greenhouse, nursery and retail markets.

Read More
Outfitting Your Greenhouse

February 24, 2015

Save Energy With The Right Greenhouse Glazing

The glazing you choose can make a big difference in your energy bill and the uniformity of your crops.

Read More
Rough Brothers aeroponic greenhouse project

February 24, 2015

Rough Brothers Takes A Hands-On Approach To Several Pro…

Two projects Rough Brothers worked on for Altman plants in Giddings, Texas, and Scissortail Farms in Tulsa County, Okla., show that pre-planning on the grower's part opens the way for a smooth-running expansion project.

Read More
Michigan State University Extension

February 24, 2015

Ethylene From Defective Greenhouse Heaters Damages Crop…

Malfunctioning greenhouse heaters can lead to crop damage from ethylene and carbon monoxide induced illness for workers. Michigan State University's Extension educators Tom Dudek and Randy Beaudry teach you how to recognize the symptoms and check greenhouse heaters to avoid the concern.

Read More
Stuppy Greenhouse Manufacturing's Rainbow Super Structure

February 23, 2015

Stuppy Greenhouse Manufacturing Says Every Customer’s G…

Well-suited greenhouses that function efficiently for customers arise from involving them in the design process from start to finish. Stuppy Greenhouse Manufacturing put this philosophy on a greenhouse design for a wholesale grower looking to expand his annuals operation. The grower's needs were simple, yet daunting: design a greenhouse that delivers the perfect growing environment, but keep maintenance and operating costs low.

Read More
Havest Automation Robot

February 18, 2015

Robots Grab Hold Of Growers’ Material Handling Needs

Harvest Automation’s HV-100 robots automate one of the hardest, most labor-intensive jobs at growing operations – plant spacing. With more technology coming, investing in robots could become even more realistic for growers of all sizes.

Read More

February 18, 2015

Range Of Nursery Inspections To Protect Patented Plants…

Plant patents are under protection, and breeders are fighting for their rights to keep growers from illegally propagating protected varieties. It's something you don't want to take a chance on, because the risk is far higher than the reward. More than 300 inspections were carried out last year from New York to British Columbia and from Ontario to Florida to protect plant patents, Plant Breeders’ Rights (PBR) and branded programs.

Read More

February 18, 2015

California Spring Trials Sneak Peek: New Annuals For 20…

If you're like us and you can't wait until the 2015 California Spring Trials to see some of the new genetics that will be hitting the market in 2016, never fear. We contacted the breeders who will be displaying their new varieties in California in April, and they gave us a sneak peek. Check out our slideshow to see some of the new annuals making their debut to the trade this spring.

Read More
Athena Brazil Salvia 'Brazilian Purple'

February 18, 2015

ForemostCo And Athena Brazil Unite To Supply Unrooted P…

ForemostCo, Inc. and Athena Brazil have forged a working relationship to support each other in the unrooted perennial cuttings market for North America. The partnership, geared toward accommodating increasing demand for unrooted perennial cuttings in North America, adds diversity to a recently consolidated market.

Read More

February 17, 2015

Poinsettias Had Their Best Year In Many In 2014

Poinsettia growers report a strong year in 2014, thanks to a few conditions. Growers were encouraged by high plant quality, enthusiastic shoppers and a stronger, less saturated market for poinsettias throughout the selling season. Seasonal cold at just the right time put consumers in a festive mood to buy early and often, and with no big snowstorms to hold up shipments and a reduction of supply available in the market, the season was strong from start to finish.

Read More

February 17, 2015

A New Look At Biological Control: Can Plants Affect The…

The success of a biological control program depends on a number of factors including quality of natural enemies, timing of release, release rates and environmental conditions. However, what is typically not taken into consideration is how plants can affect the performance of natural enemies, including attack rate and searching ability. Biological control agents work hard to protect plants, but plants have ways to help themselves, too.

Read More
american-hort-logo

February 17, 2015

AmericanHort Announces New Board Members

AmericanHort recently announced the election of new officers and members to the board of directors. Each will assume their positions on the board during Cultivate’15, July 11 to 14 in Columbus, Ohio.

Read More
All American Selections

February 17, 2015

All-America Selections Elects New Officers, Names New J…

While meeting during the Flower and Vegetable Seed Conference in Tampa, Fla., hosted by the American Seed Trade Association, All-America Selections elected new officers for a two-year term. Read on to learn about the new officers, as well as all of the new judges that were added in 2014.

Read More
Geranium x cantabrigiense 'Biokovo'

February 17, 2015

Geranium Hybrid ‘Biokovo’ Dubbed 2015 Peren…

Geranium xcantabrigiense ‘Biokovo,' a naturally occurring hybrid of G. dalmaticum and G. macrorrhizum, is the Perennial Plant Association's top pick for 2015 Perennial of the Year. Learn why this tough, landscape geranium took home the prize.

Read More

February 12, 2015

GROW Perspective: What Is It You Do Again?

The industry is very good at talking about what we do and how we do it, but has almost completely lost touch with talking about why this work is important. As an industry, we need to promote our professions as vital to healthier living.

Read More