Mar 8, 2021
Reps renew push for Farm Workforce Modernization Act

The National Potato Council (NPC) welcomed the March 4 reintroduction of the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-California) and Dan Newhouse (R-Washington) and urges its rapid passage in the House of Representatives.

“The passage of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act last Congress was the first time the House of Representatives had successfully acted to address agricultural labor reform in more than 30 years,” said RJ Andrus, NPC’s Vice President of Legislative Affairs. “NPC and our partners throughout the agricultural industry are focused on getting a comprehensive labor solution passed by both chambers and signed by the President to ensure both growers and workers alike are provided long-term certainty and security.”

The bill, which passed 260-165 the House of Representatives in the 116th Congress with the support of agricultural groups and companies, 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.

“We appreciate the commitment of Representatives Lofgren and Newhouse to reintroduce this bipartisan bill after it stalled last session in the Senate. It would have been easy to move on and address other issues, but the reintroduction of this bill sends a strong message that agricultural labor reform can — and should — occur in this Congress,” said NPC CEO Kam Quarles.

In late February, more than 160 U.S. potato growers and industry partners participated in NPC’s virtual 2021 Potato D.C. Fly-In, during which they met with members of Congress to advocate for legislation to solve the agricultural labor crisis.

“Our growers need reliable access to labor with wages and work requirements that are predictable and competitive,” said Mike Wenkel, NPC COO. “Once the House passes the FMWA, the Senate should move forward and improve upon the bill to provide the solution agriculture needs.”

The U.S. agriculture industry is experiencing a critical shortage of labor to plant and harvest crops. Estimates are that upwards of 70% of the overall agriculture labor in the United States is provided by an improperly documented immigrant workforce. This highly vulnerable workforce creates uncertainty for the workers and the farms and ranches that employ them.

Many potato growers rely on labor contracted through the agricultural guest worker program (H-2A), which supplies only 10% of the necessary agricultural workforce, in part because it operates in a cumbersome and uncompetitive manner with unpredictable wage fluctuations.

The FWMA attempts to address the unpredictability in H-2A wages. Once it arrives in the Senate, there is an opportunity to improve upon those efforts so employers and employees can predict wages. Additionally, the current H-2A program is an uncapped guest worker program, so the labor force can expand and contract based upon agriculture’s production needs. The Senate should reinforce this policy and reject limitations on guest worker visas that only serve to limit U.S. agriculture’s production.

Top photo: U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Washington, during a press conference in front of the Capitol urging the Senate to pass agriculture labor reform in February 2020. Photo: Bill Schaefer Photography

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