From FB.org, American Farm Bureau Federation, 20 Jun 2011.
For more information on Newsline, contact: Johnna Miller, Director of Media Development, American Farm Bureau Federation firstname.lastname@example.org
American farmers and ranchers are confident they produce the best, most affordable food in the world, but they also realize foreign workers are an integral part of production. AFBF Labor Specialist Paul Schlegel talks to AFBF’s Johnna Miller about a new law that would have an enormous impact on that labor force.
|Miller:||New legislation introduced by House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas would require all employers in the country to use a government database to verify that employees are legally allowed to work in the United States. American Farm Bureau Labor Specialist Paul Schlegel says the Legal Workforce Act would have rough ramifications for U.S. agriculture.|
|Schlegel:||The difficulty with E-Verify for agriculture in particular is we currently do not have in place a system that allows us to get legal workers. We hear stories from all across the country about the difficulties farmers have in getting workers who are authorized to work and if E-Verify is required of farmers without giving us a workable program, we’re just very concerned about the potential effect on the sector. Currently in the state of Georgia, which enacted an E-Verify program, you’re seeing shortages pop up there and so there’s empirical data right now that shows that if we have to deal with this program we’re going to be in trouble.|
|Miller:||Schlegel acknowledges it’s a tough argument when unemployment figures are so high, but the bottom line is that U.S. agriculture is reliant on foreign workers.|
|Schlegel:||There are people who contend that either farmers don’t look hard enough or don’t pay high enough to get workers. I spoke to a beekeeper in Colorado not long ago. They were offering $15 an hour. They could not get workers. So the unemployment rate does not seem to have an impact on the availability of labor. Jobs in agriculture are physically demanding. You might have to move from state to state to get those jobs. Our economists at American Farm Bureau say that there are at least 10 million people working in the economy today who accept wages lower than what they could make in agriculture because they don’t want the jobs. That’s the reality we’re dealing with.|
|Miller:||Schlegel adds that Congress has been promising a fix for the foreign agricultural worker program, known as H2A, for 25 years, but still no fix is in sight.|
|Schlegel:||Our economic study at Farm Bureau says that we have five to nine billion dollars a year in production that’s in jeopardy if we cannot make this system work. It also would mean a potential drop in net farm income of between 1.5 and 3 billion dollars a year. So the impacts are enormous. We have to get it right. We have to make sure there aren’t changes made to the system that send production offshore. If they are going to mandate E-Verify they must give us time to adjust our processes. They also have to give us a program that works to get us the workers.|
|Miller:||Johnna Miller, Washington.|
|Miller:||We have two extra actualities with AFBF Labor Specialist Paul Schlegel In the first extra actuality he explains his organization’s position on the Legal Workforce Act that mandates use of the E-Verify program. The cut runs 7 seconds, in 3-2-1.|
|Schlegel:||Until we get a program that works in which a farmer knows he’ll get the workers he needs when he needs them, we can’t support E-Verify.|
|Miller:||In the second extra actuality Schlegel talks about changes in agricultural labor needs. The cut runs 21 seconds, in 3-2-1.|
|Schlegel:||They have a tradition in Maine of closing the high schools in the fall so that the highschoolers can help harvest the potatoes. Well highschoolers don’t go harvest the potatoes anymore. They go to the mall and the text their friends and they listen to their iPods, but they don’t harvest the potatoes. So those are changes that have taken place in this sector and we need to make sure that the laws and regulations we have in place reflect our needs and allow this sector to sustain itself.|
|Miller:||Newsline is updated Mondays and Thursdays by 5pm eastern time. Thank you for listening.|
Source and for audio report: FB.org, American Farm Bureau Federation, “E-Verify Is E-normous Problem for Agriculture” 20 Jun 2011.