Back in March, the House passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. This act addresses concerns with the H-2A program such as establishing a minimum wage and work hours and providing a pathway to citizenship.
“They are indeed people who have been in this country for an incredibly long time—the average is roughly 18 years,” said Sec. Tom Vilsack during his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. “As much as 70 percent of those workers may well be undocumented workers. 83 percent of them are Hispanic or Latino. They work long hours five, six or seven days a week.”
Vilsack said that in terms of income, many immigrant farmworkers are at or below the poverty line. They also leave their families behind in their home countries, carrying the burden they might never see them again.
“I’m here today simply to advocate on behalf of American agriculture and these workers to plead with the Senate to fix this broken system, to maintain the capacity of this great food and agriculture industry to continue to provide the benefits that we all enjoy in this country, and at the same time, provide the respect and dignity to the farm workers who are working so hard to make this system what it is today,” he said.
Under the current program, the only H-2A workers that can stay year-round are those who work in dairy. In the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, all of animal agriculture could have the opportunity to have year-round workers. Jen Sorenson, president of the National Pork Producers Council, said this is important to the pork industry.
“Any pork producer will tell you there is no pork season,” she said during her testimony to the committee. “It requires a full-time, hard-working and dedicated workforce. On our farms and processing plants, current visa programs designed for seasonal agriculture, such as the H-2A visa program, failed to meet the workforce needs of U.S. pork producers and other year-round livestock farmer. Now more than ever, we need a dedicated, year-round workforce.”
Oregon produce producer Shay Myers also testified in favor of ag labor reform. He said quote, “America’s farms, ranches and dairies cannot operate their businesses without sufficient labor.”