Congress Fails on Agricultural Workers

A Failing Congress

 Editor’s Note: This letter was submitted by Manuel Cunha Jr. He is President of the Fresno-based Nisei Farmers League.

Every day, thousands of people wake up before the sun rises, pack their lunches, and drive or carpool their way to work. Some toil underneath the hot sun, while others are inside feverishly packing perishable items to make sure they make their cross country or ocean voyage in time. Six days a week they repeat this routine and how are they rewarded? With the fear that they will not be able to continue this routine.

These are OUR agricultural workers. Who provide us with the safest food that we, our representatives in Washington D.C., and officials in the White House buy at our stores, farmer’s markets, and restaurants.

These workers have children, many born in the U.S., that they must figure out who is going to take them to and from school, practice for sports and other activities, or who is going to care for their child while they’re at work. The same thing that any U.S. citizen parent must figure out.

They pay taxes and Social Security deductions, the latter which they will receive no benefit from.

They are the backbone of an industry where, in California alone, farmers sold almost $50 billion worth of food in 2013. Yet, between 2002 and 2014, the number of field and crop workers in the state declined by about 85,000, leading to a drop in the number of entry-level workers available for difficult jobs like hoeing, harvesting, and planting. While technology is often touted as a cure for every economic ailment, when it comes to delivering California’s crops to the nation’s kitchen tables, there is no app for that. Instead, we need skilled farmworkers, along with smart land and water use, to maintain our agriculture rich history.

On October 2, 2017, Congressman Goodlatte introduced H.R. 4092, it provides a pathway for our undocumented agricultural workers to obtain an agricultural work visa (H-2C visa). It also provides for a system, instead of our broken H-2A program, to bring in more agricultural workers into the U.S. to make up for our shortfall. By October 25, 2017, the bill had been amended to the detriment of our current agricultural workers. There are many flaws with the legislation, especially the deduction of 10% from these worker’s wages which was to be put in a trust account. The purpose of this is to provide “a monetary incentive for H-2C workers to return to their country of origin upon expiration of their visas.” To receive the money that they already earned, they must apply and establish that they have complied with the terms and conditions of the H-2C program. They then have return to their home country to obtain the payment.

Did we not learn anything from the Bracero Program, implemented between 1942 to 1964, that also withheld 10% of the worker’s wages as an incentive to return to Mexico? They never received those wages, and the workers of the proposed legislation may have received the same fate.

The inability by Congress to provide legislation for our undocumented agricultural workers living in the U.S. and a workable guest worker program has led to more members in my industry clamoring for more H-2A workers. This is a betrayal to the hardworking men and women who work for them.

Some have been living and working here for over 25 years, hoping that Congress passes legislation similar to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 – the last time Congress passed meaningful immigration legislation for our undocumented agricultural workers. Instead of meaningful legislation, some want to give them pink slips. These are skilled, hardworking people that are vital members of our communities and some want to toss them aside. What will become of them, their children, our communities?

Not only has Congress failed to protect our undocumented agricultural workers, but they seek to punish them. Congressman Lamar Smith recently introduced H.R. 3711. The bill would make mandatory and permanent requirements relating to use of an electronic employment eligibility verification system, more commonly known as E-Verify. It is a federal program that allows businesses to check a new employee’s immigration status within a matter of seconds. It will replace the current system, where the new employee fills out Form I-9 and present documents that they are eligible to work along with an identity document. The employer must take the documents at face value.

This would decimate our agricultural workforce, along with the hospitality industry, and in California, the building industry. It won’t just effect businesses, but more importantly, it will hurt families. Families that go to our schools and churches.

It is time for Congress and for all the members in my industry to get behind some of the hardest working members in our society and provide them with legal status. These are the people who make America great!

Sincerely,

Manuel Cunha, Jr., President, Nisei Farmers League

1775 N. Fine Avenue, Fresno, CA 93727

559-287-5610 cell

559-251-8468

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USDA report outlines opportunities in the emerging bioeconomy

Source: Monique Bienvenue – Cal Ag Today Social Media Manager/Reporter

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released a comprehensive report synthesizing current literature that explores opportunities in the emerging bioeconomy. The report, entitled Why Biobased?, was created as a precursor for a more comprehensive economic study to be released in the coming months by the USDA BioPreferred program on the economic impacts of the biobased products industry.

“This new report presents the opportunities U.S. agriculture and forests have in the emerging bioeconomy,” said Vilsack. “The recent inclusion of mature market products into the BioPreferred program strengthens our commitment to the U.S. biobased economy and brings together two of the most important economic engines for rural America: agriculture and manufacturing.”

Synthesizing findings from existing government, academia, and non-governmental organizations, the new report explores how government policies and industry business-to-business sustainability programs are driving the biobased economy. The report further demonstrates that the biobased economy is, in fact, growing and it offers great potential for increased job creation in numerous sectors across the U.S.

For instance, one report cited concludes that biobased chemicals are expected to constitute over 10 percent of the chemical market by 2015. Another report in the study concludes that there is a potential to produce two-thirds of the total volume of chemicals from biobased materials, representing over 50,000 products, a $1 trillion annual global market.

On the heels of this completed study, the USDA BioPreferred program has awarded a contract for a more in-depth economic study of biobased products and economic impacts, including research on job creation and economic value. It will be the first federally-sponsored economic report of its kind targeting the biobased products industry in the U.S. Congress mandated the upcoming study in the 2014 Farm Bill.

The USDA BioPreferred program works to increase the purchase and use of designated biobased products through a preferred procurement initiative for federal agencies. Designated products may also carry the voluntary consumer label.

The voluntary “USDA Certified Biobased Product” label is designed to promote the broad-scale marketing of biobased products to consumers. As of September 2014, USDA has certified over 1,940 biobased products in more than 187 product categories for the label. Certified and designated products include construction, janitorial, and grounds keeping products purchased by Federal agencies, to personal care and packaging products used by consumers every day.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) has estimated that U.S.-based jobs for the renewable chemicals sector will rise from approximately 40,000 jobs in 2011, which represents 3%-4% of all chemical sales, to over 237,000 jobs by 2025. This employment level would represent approximately 20% of total chemical sales.

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