More than 300 agricultural groups sent a letter to speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D., Cal.) and minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Cal.) in support of H.R. 5038, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, a bipartisan effort negotiated over several months with input from agricultural stakeholders and labor organizations that was introduced with the support of 26 Democrats and 23 Republicans.
The bill was spearheaded by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D., Cal.), Dan Newhouse (R., Wash.), Mike Simpson (R., Ida.), Jimmy Panetta (D., Cal.), Doug LaMalfa (R., Cal.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R., Fla.).
The letter was signed by the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, the United Egg Producers, dairy groups, farmers unions and many produce sectors. Several individual county farm bureaus signed onto the letter, although the American Farm Bureau Federation has not offered its support for the proposal as it currently stands.
The bill will establish a program for agricultural workers in the U.S. to earn legal status through continued agricultural employment and contribution to the U.S. agricultural economy. In addition, it will reform the H-2A program to provide more flexibility for employers while ensuring critical protections for workers.
The bill focuses on modifications to make the program more responsive and user friendly for employers and provides access to the program for industries with year-round labor needs. The bill also establishes a mandatory, nationwide E-Verify system for all agricultural employment with a structured phase-in and guaranteed due process for authorized workers who are incorrectly rejected by the system.
“As foreign producers take advantage of our labor shortage and gain market share, America will export not only our food production but also thousands of these farm-dependent jobs. Securing a reliable and skilled workforce is essential not only for the agriculture industry but for the U.S. economy as a whole,” the letter points out.
The letter continues, “The House must pass legislation that preserves agriculture’s experienced workforce by allowing current farm workers to earn legal status. For future needs, legislation must include an agricultural worker visa program that provides access to a legal and reliable workforce moving forward.”
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is scheduled to be marked up by the House Judiciary Committee at 10:00 a.m. (EST) on Nov. 20.
“The Farm Workforce Modernization Act was negotiated over eight months by a bipartisan group of members with stakeholders on all sides of the issue, including farming associations and the United Farm Workers (UFW) union,” Lofgren said. “We’re in the process of providing stability for the people who get food to our table because of the agricultural employers, associations and the UFW who came to the table ready to compromise. As the Judiciary Committee gets ready to consider our bipartisan bill, this letter showcases how essential it is for Congress to work together to address our nation’s future farm labor needs.”
“The support and guidance of agricultural stakeholders and industry groups was absolutely vital as we negotiated and introduced the Farm Workforce Modernization Act,” Newhouse added. “Now, as the bill continues to move through Congress, I am grateful these groups are stepping up to let House leadership know how important this bipartisan effort is for farmers across the United States who are facing a critical labor shortage.”
“The agriculture community is the backbone of Idaho’s economy,” Simpson noted. “Having their input throughout this process has been key to ensuring this legislation meets their needs for a legal workforce. I am pleased that hundreds of groups across the country are lending their voices to pass this critical bill, and I look forward to continuing to work with them through the legislative process to provide our farmers and ranchers with a solution to their workforce needs.”
“Agriculture stakeholders’ support and guidance was crucial for us to craft and introduce the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. I look forward to their continued advocacy as we work to get this over the finish line. This bipartisan bill will offer much-needed stability and fairness for farms and farmworkers across America,” Panetta said.
LaMalfa said, “The bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act would not be possible without the backing of our agriculture industry. I’m happy that we’ve crafted a piece of legislation that is overwhelmingly supported by hundreds of industry groups and stakeholders from around the country, including California. Additionally, this bill will benefit the farmers and farm workers themselves by ensuring all workers have documentation. Our ag sector needs a stable and reliable workforce in order to continue feeding and clothing the nation, and with this legislation, we hope to finally provide that.”
“For far too long, our nation’s farmers have suffered from a broken H-2A visa system that has made it difficult to hire the necessary personnel to provide to the American people,” Diaz-Balart said. “The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is the only viable, bipartisan solution that can move in the House and address this issue, which is not only of economic importance but of national security importance as well. I encourage my colleagues to pass this important legislation. Let’s strengthen our economy and national security by continuing to grow and produce our own food while legally providing permanence to our agricultural workers.”