Nisei Farmers League Opposes Congressman Goodlatte’s Bill H.R. 4760
By Manuel Cunha, President of Nisei Farmers League
Nisei Farmers League strongly opposes HR 4760, the bill known as “Securing America’s Future Act of 2018.”
This amended legislation does not deal with the most pressing issues we had with it. The legislation should not alone deal with agriculture production, but the other industries as well, that are working in our country, our states, our cities, as well as our rural communities.
Those are the people and families we should be trying to help, versus penalizing the employers, penalizing the people that work and provide the taxes, the social security and contribute economically to their communities. Congressman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, the bill’s author, never worked with local communities and local elected officials, and did not receive input from organizations, such as ours.
The legislation does not adequately address the people and their families who are currently working here. Our workers are not criminals. They should not be involved in the touchback process and should not have wages withheld.
This bill has allotments for guest workers, but doesn’t adequately deal with DACA. Congressman Goodlatte is trying to appease the March 5th deadline on DACA with a half-hearted solution.
Until they sit down with the real people who deal with immigration every day, such as businesses, law enforcement, and churches, NO LEGISLATION LIKE THIS SHALL BE PASSED.
We will do everything in our power to STOP IT!!!!”
For comments and questions, call Manuel Cunha, Jr. at 559-251-8468.
Tom Stenzel, President and CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association, a lobbying group in Washington D.C., recently spoke with California Ag Today about new developments in food safety as well as some recent issues in regards to labor.
“Our industry’s been revolutionized in the commitment to food safety over the last ten years. Everybody from the ground up through the processing facilities … it’s our number one priority. The same time, the feds have these new rules and regulations that are coming out with some compliance states starting now in 2018, so we’re just trying to make sure that it is reasonable enforcement that the Feds understand as they’re looking at farms, looking at processing facilities, that we’re in this together. Ultimately, all of us just want to make sure that consumers have safe food,” Stenzel said.
Stenzel said many producers in California are already ahead of the curve when it comes to food safety.
“I mean, you look at the leafy greens industry on the Central Coast: They’ve been ready for a good while with very high produce safety standards,” he noted. “But … there’s some areas across the country where it’s going to be a little bit more challenging. But that’s OK, too, because everybody wants to raise their game. They want to make sure that we’re doing everything we possibly can to deliver safe food.”
Stenzel noted that labor is a big issue, especially in California.
“The number one issue I’m hearing across the country from fruit and vegetable agriculture is the shortage of labor. Now for us, the solution – it’s going to be two parts. It’s got to be a new future guest worker program, and for that, we really thank U.S. Congressman and Chair of the House Judiciary Committee Bob Goodlatte for raising the issue [and] pushing a bill. It’s not everything we want to see, but at least he’s raising his head on that issue,” Stenzel said. “However, we need to deal with the current workforce.”
“We also need to have a bigger commitment to get legal status for those who are already here. These are men and women who’ve been here for twenty years,” he explained. “This is their home where they have raised their families, they’ve got children who are U.S. citizens and they’re working in our fields. We can’t deport them. That doesn’t make sense as a country and certainly not as an agricultural industry.”
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director and Brian German, Associate Broadcaster
California ag leaders hoped that Governor Brown would see how the AB 1066 overtime bill would actually hurt farmworkers and veto it. Now that the Governor has signed it, the following ag leaders weigh in on AB 1066 consequences: Norm Groot, executive director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau; Bryan Van Groningen, field manager for Van Groningen & Sons Farms; and Anthony Raimondo, a Fresno-based attorney who has been representing farmers and farm labor contractors for over 15 years, among them.
Norm Groot anticipated, “The end result of AB 1066 is a big move to mechanized harvesting, which probably means a change in some of the crops that we’re growing here simply because currently we can’t harvest lettuce or strawberries or some of the other vegetable crops by mechanized means. Lawmakers are forcing the hand of the growers to move into crops that are less labor intensive and thus, save the [labor] cost,” said Groot.
Groot noted the inaccurate AB 1066 assumption—that an increase in overtime hours and pay will result from its passage. “We will probably see their hours cut back to the eight hours a day and forty hours per week,” he explained, as stipulated in the law. “Growers will adjust their planning schedules to the amount of laborers that they think they have available for harvest. It’s not an automatic given that we’re going to see all these paychecks increase, simply because we’re putting overtime at more than eight hours a day or after forty hours a week,” Groot said.
Groot added that farmworkers are not in favor of losing 33% of their income at this point. “I think overall, the unions have been supportive of this particular change, but the unions do not represent the majority of the laborers or field workers at this point,” he said.
“I think if you were to ask the average field worker whether he wants to work ten hours a day and sixty hours a week, he would probably say yes. Field workers want that income. They know they work in a seasonal business; they have to earn their income when they can,” he explained.
Bryan Van Groningen
“Our farmworkers, our employees, love to put in the extra hours because this is the time that they’re making wages. Our company is accustomed to paying overtime if that’s what it requires,” said Van Groningen, “and the majority of our workers are already satisfied with the existing compensation structure.”
But Van Groningen noted the problem lies in what is considered overtime. With a shorter workday, overtime compensation rates will kick in much earlier than in the past, which will end up being a tremendous cost to the employer. “That’s going to cause our farm to mechanize a little bit more to try to get through the harvest more bit quickly because [the cost] is going to become too big of a burden,” he said.
Growers want to help their employees as best they can, but Van Groningen predicts reduced hours may become a necessity. “It’s just smart business. We don’t want to cut hours, but if we’re forced to because our bottom line is starting to become an issue, that’s what we’ll have to seriously consider,” he said.
Anthony Raimondo foresaw the effects of AB 1066 could put California at a disadvantage in the global marketplace. “At the very least,” Raimondo said, “employers will be forced to evaluate where they can cut production costs.”
“The increased overtime in some industries is going to drive automation,” said Raimondo. “So you are going to lose jobs because now it’s worth it for people to do the research and development to have more automation, more machine-harvested crops and less labor.”
Raimondo also expects some employers to add more H-2A temporary agricultural guest workers to make sure hours stay low enough to prevent their costs from increasing. “In the end, this is really going to cost farmworkers in terms of their real wages and it creates a massive economic disadvantage for California’s agricultural industry,” he said.
Policies like AB 1066 become increasingly problematic as the global agricultural industry continues to become more competitive. “Increasingly, agriculture has become a global marketplace in which we compete against countries that do not maintain the same labor standards nor the same environmental standards that we maintain, so our agricultural industry continues to remain at an economic disadvantage with the rest of the world,” noted Raimondo.
Featured photo: Norm Groot, Monterey County Farm Bureau executive director