Ag News

AFBF calls for ag labor reform; GFVGA joins labor lawsuit

Posted on Jun 27, 2024 at 10:52 AM

On June 14, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) sent a letter to USDA and the Department of Labor (DOL) regarding the significant shortage of help on U.S. farms and ranches. In a related development, the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association (GFVGA) joined a lawsuit against the DOL challenging new rules concerning farm labor.

AFBF’s June 14 letter asked the agencies to reevaluate the farm labor survey and sought a willingness from the DOL to engage with farmers and ranchers to understand challenges agricultural producers face. The AFBF’s letter followed a June 4 letter from multiple agricultural stakeholder organizations asking for guidance on the agencies’ rulemaking and a review of the Farm Labor Survey.

The June 14 letter, solely from AFBF, expanded and underscored those recommendations.

Among the requests AFBF made are:

• A reconsideration of the methodology for determining the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR). The National Council of Agricultural Employers has led a petitioning effort to reevaluate the AEWR’s function as a guardrail against an adverse effect to the domestic wages and working conditions of U.S. workers similarly employed, as embodied in the Immigration and Nationality Act. AFBF supports the petition and requests serious consideration by DOL.

• A reconsideration whether an adverse effect truly exists to justify the current framework. Foremost among the feedback received from Farm Bureau members is the inexplicable annual rise in the AEWR.

“For many years, AEWR increases have significantly outpaced inflation and accelerated costs for growers well beyond their means and the financial viability of family farms. Small- and medium-sized farms struggle to stay afloat, and many are shutting down,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall wrote.

• A suggestion to convene a workshop with USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service experts and stakeholders to candidly address the deficiencies and suggested improvements to data collection, analysis, and distribution surrounding the AEWR.

Duvall noted a prevailing view among AFBF membership that DOL does not seek to understand how farmers and ranchers value, trust and protect their workers. Many farmworkers are more than employees, having spent decades farming alongside the farmers who employ them.

AFBF invited agency leaders to meet with the farmers in the field to better understand agriculture’s care and concern for its employees.

Meanwhile, the GFVGA, represented by the Southeastern Legal Foundation, joined a coalition of produce growers, farmers, and State Attorneys General suing the DOL over its new rules proposed for the H-2A program.

The new “Worker Protection Rules”, slated to go into effect in late June, will continue to make the H-2A program prohibitively expensive and exceeds authority granted to DOL all the while adding more complex regulations to the already overly complicated program.

“This drastic measure by the Department of Labor will be devastating for the agricultural industry, not just in Georgia but across the nation,” said GFVGA Executive Vice President Chris Butts. “Our members’ farms and employees will suffer because they cannot afford to meet this program’s unreasonable and unlawful demands. We must level the playing field for producers instead of continuing to stack the deck against them.”

The GFVGA noted that Congress gave some employees the right to form labor unions through the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), but it explicitly excluded farm workers from the right to form unions and has continued to do so for nearly 90 years. The DOL rules, GFVGA said takes unprecedented steps to create rights Congress did not intend.

Under a new agency rule, the Department is requiring agricultural employers to allow temporary foreign farm workers to form unions, creating a new right that is not granted to American farm workers. The Department claims that it has authority to do so under the Immigration Reform and Control Act, even though that law, which grants temporary H-2A employment visas to migrant farm worker does not mention the right to form unions.

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