The past several years have seen great uncertainty within the apple industry as to whether there will be sufficient and dependable labor to harvest the crop or expand operations. Every year, growers from coast to coast, large and small, report worker shortages. Increased enforcement measures, including I-9 audits, create further instability.
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 nearly 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.
USApple urges 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 unsustainable escalation of mandated guest worker wage rates, simplifies the program and provides legal reform to remove unreasonable employer sanctions and regulatory burdens.