From YumaSun.com, “Guest worker program broken” by Tom Nassif, 31 Mar 2011.
The flawed notion that low farmworker wages are to blame for the country’s need for foreign labor misses the point entirely. In response to the March 23 letter submitted by Juan Manuel Guerrero Jr. from Somerton (“Housing isn’t farm issue — it is wages”), today’s central labor issue plaguing Arizona and California farmers isn’t wages — it is a broken guest worker program.
Yuma legislator Rep. Russell Jones wants to see improvement in the current H-2A guest worker program by allowing flexibility in the housing rules, and for that I commend him. Department of Labor rules force H-2A farmers in border regions to provide costly housing even if Mexican workers decline it to commute daily from their own homes. Such a change is one small step in improving burdensome federal rules that don’t make sense for agriculture.
But some argue if farmers would pay field workers more, there wouldn’t even be a need for foreign labor. That simply isn’t true. Farm wages as a whole in the U.S. have increased 35 percent in the last 10 years and are significantly more than the minimum wage, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Last year, Yuma producers that used the H-2A program paid farm laborers $9.71 per hour. That’s more than a worker making minimum wage.
The fact is, many H-2A workers employed in the Yuma area live across the border in Mexico and wish to return to their homes at the end of each workday. Most decline employer-provided housing, although every H-2A worker is guaranteed a place to live.
Harvesting in Yuma is seasonal work and only provides income for five to six months out of the year. For a year-round income, field workers must follow the harvest out of Arizona and to other regions. Nevertheless, under current H-2A rules, farm employers must contract and pay for housing that goes unused, which is a waste of resources.
Working in Yuma’s fields is difficult even under the best of conditions and we appreciate the hard work done by farmworkers. Without them, our crops would rot in the fields. We simply ask for a guest worker program with rules that makes sense for agriculture.
Tom NassifPresident and CEO