Every year, growers from coast to coast, large and small, report worker shortages. Increased enforcement measures, including I-9 audits, create further instability. The result has been uncertainty as to whether there will be sufficient and dependable labor to harvest the crop or expand operations.
In response to these labor uncertainties, an increasing number of apple growers have turned to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program. The H-2A program is complicated, expensive and subject to delay, but the need is so great the number of H-2A workers has more than tripled in the past five years. That trend continues, much of it being driven by the apple industry. This increase has added to existing capacity problems at the Departments of Labor, State and Homeland Security and, as a consequence, workers continue to be 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. Mandatory E-Verify without broader reforms would have a devastating effect on the industry. Therefore, passing legislative reforms that address both the current and future flow of workers is the industry’s top priority.
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.
In December, the House passed the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act. The legislation was strongly supported by the apple industry and growers thank those who championed it and voted for it. Focus now moves to the Senate where there is the opportunity to further improve on the House effort and get a final product across the finish line. USApple strongly urges the Senate to act.
USApple urges Congress to pass legislation that provides meaningful agricultural labor reform and meets the following objectives:
1) Provides a stable, adequate and predictable supply of agricultural labor capable of participating legally in the U.S. workforce;
2) Significantly reforms the H-2A program; and
3) Addresses the unsustainable escalation of mandated guest worker wage rates, simplifies and provides legal reform to remove unreasonable employer sanctions and regulatory burdens.