Why is agriculture labor reform critical to the apple industry?
Apple production – growing, pruning, harvesting, and packing – is highly labor intensive. The apple industry is heavily dependent on migrant labor, H-2A, and H-2B workers to grow, harvest, pack and process apples and apple products.
The past several years have seen great uncertainty within the apple industry as to whether there will be sufficient labor to harvest the crop or grow operations. Every year, growers from coast to coast, large and small, report worker shortages. In response to these labor uncertainties, an increasing number of apple growers have turned to the H-2A agricultural guest worker program. Despite H-2A being complicated, expensive and increasingly unreliable, the need is so great the number of H-2A workers has doubled in the past five years. That trend is expected to continue.
This increase has added to existing capacity problems at the Departments of Labor and State, and as a consequence, workers have been delayed. For a perishable crop like apples, the delay of even a few days waiting on harvest workers can make the difference between a profit and a loss. A stable, legal and reliable workforce is critical if we are to continue to have a vibrant domestic apple industry.
Why enforcement-only legislation doesn’t work:
Enforcement-only legislation, such as mandatory E-Verify, without broader reforms would have a devastating effect on the apple industry. Every farm worker engaged in high-value labor-intensive crop production sustains three or more local, off-farm (but agricultural dependent), year-round jobs. Losing our foreign-born workforce would have the same economic impact on these communities as factories closing and moving to other countries. Therefore, passing legislative reforms that address both the current and future flow of workers is the industry’s top priority.
Both components must be passed in tandem because even a reformed H-2A program will not immediately have the capacity to service the number of workers that are needed. The current H-2A program provides about 15 percent of the workers needed to sustain labor-intensive agriculture, including dairy, tree fruit and dozens of others.
USApple opposes enforcement-only legislation, such as E-Verify, unless it contains viable agricultural labor provisions that address both the current and future workforce. We urge Congress to pass legislation that provides meaningful agricultural labor reform and meets the following objectives:
- Provides a stable, adequate and predictable supply of agricultural labor capable of participating legally in the U.S. workforce;
- Replaces or significantly reforms the H-2A program; and
- Addresses the high level of wage rates in the H-2A program, simplifies the program and provides legal reform to remove unreasonable employer sanctions and regulatory burdens.