Mar 19, 2021
Farm labor bill passes in House, attention turns to Senate

The National Potato Council (NPC), which represents America’s $4.5 billion potato industry, welcomed the March 18 bipartisan 247-174 vote in the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.

The bill — sponsored by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-California) and Dan Newhouse (R-Washington) and cosponsored by 23 members, including House Agriculture Chairman David Scott (D-Georgia) and Reps. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), Fred Upton (R-Michigan), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Washington), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Florida), Abigail Spanberger (D-Virginia) — is backed by agricultural groups and companies focused on addressing the agriculture workforce crisis.

“Yesterday’s bipartisan passage of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act sends a strong message that the time to address agricultural labor reform is now,” said RJ Andrus, NPC’s Vice President of Legislative Affairs. “Last Congress, NPC and our partners throughout the agricultural industry were disheartened when the Senate was unable to move forward on ag labor reform. We are now focused on keeping the up momentum and are grateful that Senators Crapo and Bennet have committed to working together to introduce a bill in the Senate to ensure growers and workers are provided long-term certainty, security, and competitiveness.”

The legislation, which passed the House in 2019 but was not taken up by the Senate, would address the agriculture workforce crisis by establishing effective border security, a path to legal work status for undocumented agricultural workers, and sustainable guest worker programs to fulfill the ongoing needs of America’s agriculture industry. After the March 18 House passage, Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) announced they would work together to introduce a companion bill that would benefit both the agriculture industry and the farmworkers that support it.

“We appreciate Representatives Lofgren and Newhouse for reaching across party lines to once again pass a bipartisan bill designed to benefit both growers and laborers,” said NPC CEO Kam Quarles. “As the bill moves to the Senate, we will continue to work with Senators Bennet and Crapo to improve the measure and enact long-term labor solutions that support the health of family farmers and all those working in the potato industry.”

In the Senate, NPC plans to advocate for improvements to the bill including addressing the unpredictable wage rate for employers taking part in the agricultural guest worker program (H-2A). Additionally, the group will work to ensure the current H-2A program remains uncapped, to allow the labor force to expand and contract based upon agriculture’s production needs.

United Fresh reaction

United Fresh Produce Association President and CEO Tom Stenzel: “The House of Representatives took an important step towards reforming our agricultural labor system by passing the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H. R. 1603) by a vote of 247 to 174. The legislation will stabilize our current workforce and make improvements to ensure that a future workforce is available to meet the growing needs of the fresh produce industry.

“The strong support for this measure would not have been possible without the leadership of Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-California) and Congressman Dan Newhouse (R-Washington). Their efforts, aided by colleagues on both sides of the aisle, made today’s passage of the bill possible. Now our efforts turn to the Senate where we will work to further improve the bill and garner similar bipartisan support for this legislation.”

On March 17, 350 United Fresh members sent a joint letter to the House leadership encouraging passage of this legislation that defends our current workforce and expands opportunities for foreign workers, while ensuring that American workers will always have the first opportunity to fill the needs of farmers. This letter complements an agriculture industry letter sent earlier this week to Capitol Hill.

Top photo: U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Washington) speaks during a press conference outside the Capitol on ag labor reform on Feb. 26, 2020. (Bill Schaefer Photography.)

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