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U.S. House members meet with labor secretary to discuss H-2A

 

By: Georgia Farm Bureau
10/4/2017 1:36:57 PM

 

On Sept. 24 more than a dozen members of the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Georgia's Buddy Carter (R-1st District), met with Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to discuss ways to improve the federal H-2A migrant labor program and allow farmers and ranchers better, more consistent access to the workers they need.

"I've always said that the American farmer feeds the nation, feeds the world. There's no question about it," Carter said in an interview with Georgia Farm Bureau media. "In order for the agriculture community to be strong and vibrant, we've got to have a strong and vibrant H-2A program. You've got to have workers. That's why we wanted to meet with Sec. Acosta, so we could be assured that the workforce is there."

This spring, Georgia Farm Bureau and seven state commodity associations wrote to the Georgia congressional delegation with a list of requested reforms to be made to the H-2A program; many of the items could be done through executive branch regulatory actions.

The requested reforms were:

Streamline the application process farmers must go through to obtain workers.

Refine domestic recruitment requirement. Would include allowing employers to hire domestic workers until 30 days after the date of need, rather than 50 percent of the labor contract time.

Improve housing availability by allowing a housing allowance or vouchers for workers to find their own housing in the area.

Expand program eligibility and participation rules. Change the amount of time a migrant laborer can be employed from 10 months, which the DOL currently allows, to less than a year and broaden eligibility to include year-round agricultural operations like dairies.

Make the wage rates more transparent and predictable by establishing the wage rate for H-2A workers at federal minimum wage plus an additional percentage.

Provide for and encourage mediation and arbitration agreements to govern disputes between employers and workers.

Adjustment of transportation rules so that travel costs are shared equally between employer and worker;

Move the H-2A program to USDA jurisdiction.

Carter and his colleagues presented a similar list to Acosta in the Sept. 26 meeting.

"I think he was receptive," Carter said. "I think he feels a little bit overwhelmed in that some of it is out of his jurisdiction and that it belongs with the USDA, which we would agree with. There are things that we can do legislatively and that we will do legislatively. They'll take time. There are things that he can do by rule and by regulations that can be done a lot quicker. That's what we're hoping."

Moving H-2A to USDA jurisdiction would have to be voted on by Congress, and Carter said funding for a transition from a paper-based application system to a computerized one would have to come through Congressional appropriation.

Carter urged farmers to continue voicing their concerns about agricultural labor issues to their congressmen.

"I would continue to advocate for it. I'd continue to lobby for, to call members of Congress to make sure they're aware of what the problem is. We need to hear from them, not only in our office but especially in others, whoever their representatives are," Carter said.

 

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