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National legislative counsel cites four areas the organization would like to see addressed.

November 13, 2019

3 Min Read
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CONCERNS: The Michigan Farm Bureau says the current Farm Workforce Modernization Act falls short of meeting its policy developed by members. Martin Falbisoner

While the Michigan Farm Bureau and the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) have long advocated for comprehensive agricultural labor reforms, the organizations are — unlike others — not being quick to support the Farm Workforce Modernization Act recently introduced in the U.S. House.

John Kran, MFB’s national legislative counsel, says the caution is warranted: The bipartisan bill introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., falls short of meeting the Farm Bureau’s member-developed policy because some provisions within the proposal either increase farm employers’ vulnerability or simply aren’t a viable long-term solution for the farm sector.

Given that the last major immigration reform occurred in 1986, Kran explained that Michigan farmers need updates to position them for decades — updates that are forward-thinking and allow them to compete globally.

“There are many good components to the legislation, including a status adjustment for our current workforce that may be undocumented or falsely documented, and allowing dairy and other year-round agriculture jobs to be eligible to participate in the visa program,” Kran says. “At this point, however, there are four specific areas of concern that we’ll need to address and communicate with our Michigan delegation and the bill sponsors on."

“Until these items are better aligned with AFBF policy, we aren’t able to support the proposal,” he adds. “Farm Bureau has been at the table throughout the negotiations and will continue to fight for components our members call for in policy as the legislation moves through the process.” 

Three members of Michigan’s congressional delegation signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, including Reps. Fred Upton, Elissa Slotkin and Paul Mitchell. 

Here are the four areas of concern:

1. Continuation of the Adverse Effect Wage Rate. Within the legislation, the Adverse Effect Wage Rate would continue, and Farm Bureau is instead advocating to make the wage more market-based and competitive for growers.

“We continue to hear from farmers that the annual growth of the AEWR is not sustainable,” Kran says. “The wage in Michigan has increased nearly $2 an hour since 2015, from $11.56 to $13.54, and preliminary estimates for 2020 show an even larger annual increase. 

“This is much faster wage inflation than other industries are experiencing and is outpacing prices farmers receive for their production. We’d also like to see the bill more aggressively tackle the burdensome cost structure within the H-2A program.” 

2. Arbitrary visa caps. The Farm Bureau also feels the legislation’s cap on the number of year-round visas doesn’t meet the industry’s needs.

“It’s estimated that more than 500,000 year-round agricultural jobs exist,” Kran says. “And we know that even with the proposed status adjustment for the current undocumented workers, our industry’s workforce continues to age, and we’ll need to rely more heavily on visa workers in the future.” 

The bill caps year-round, 36-month visas at 20,000 annually, with half set aside for the dairy industry. While that allows for 60,000 by year three, it still does not come close to what agriculture needs in the long run, especially if declines in the existing workforce continue.

“This does not accurately reflect the number we’ll need long term to remain competitive," Kran says.

3. Mandatory e-verify. In the bill’s current state, agriculture would be the only industry with an e-verify mandate. The Farm Bureau believes that before e-verify is mandated, there should be full implementation of a usable guest worker program. 

4. Migrant Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. Last, the legislation places H-2A workers under the Migrant Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, which would grant them — or a worker advocacy organization acting on their behalf — a private right of action, giving them the ability to sue employers in federal court. AFBF policy opposes this change within the immigration policy.

Source: Michigan Farm Bureau, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

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