Farm Labor Crisis: Speak Out, Speak Up, Speak Often

Fieldworker_generic

“There has never been a more important time in all my years of working in Florida agriculture for growers to reach out to their lawmakers.” That’s Mike Carlton’s take on the current situation surrounding agricultural labor and immigration policy. Carlton, Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s director of labor relations, says the outcome of pending federal or state legislation could have a major impact on growers’ ability to secure labor.

Senator Marco Rubio
http://rubio.senate.gov/public
Phone: 202-224-3041

Senator Bill Nelson
http://billnelson.senate.gov
Phone: 202-224-5274

Florida Governor Rick Scott
www.flgov.com
Phone: 850-488-7146

U.S. Congress Members of the Judiciary Committee:

Dennis Ross (Florida’s 12th District)
http://dennisross.house.gov
Phone: 863-644-8215

Ted Deutch (Florida’s 19th District)
http://deutch.house.gov
Phone: 561-988-6302

Sandy Adams (Florida’s 24th District)
http://adams.house.gov
Phone: 407-977-7601

Immigration policy is a perennial issue and one that has found no reasonable solutions in decades. In the political world, it is easy to understand why — it is an issue that fires strong emotions. Just scroll the talk radio dial any given day and the rhetoric is strong: “call your lawmaker and tell them to build a wall; and no way to amnesty.” And do they ever call, often crashing the Washington, D.C. switchboard whenever any significant immigration policy is up for a vote.
Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL) reports his office has been inundated with calls regarding E-Verify. The vast majority of the calls, numbering in the thousands, are in favor of mandatory E-Verify, but they are coming from outside his District largely from organized anti-immigration groups. So, it is within this framework that growers must realize they are operating and make the call to his or her state and federal elected officials. They must communicate the critical need for a workable guestworker program regardless of whatever immigration reform may come to pass.

E-Verify On The Move

Because of public outcry, states including Georgia and Alabama have passed strict immigration laws, which include an E-Verify provision. Florida narrowly avoided a similar law being passed last year, and it remains one of Governor Rick Scott’s top priorities. At presstime, HR 2885 had passed out of the House Judiciary Committee with its next stop being the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for a heated debate. A provision that would provide a more user-friendly alternative to H-2A was struck from consideration in the Committee.
E-Verify is a government-run database that uses Social Security numbers to determine if job applicants are authorized to work in the U.S. Currently, the program is voluntary, but HR 2885 would make E-Verify mandatory.
With so much of agriculture dependent on migrant labor, experts warn mandatory E-Verify could create massive disruptions in the labor supply. Estimates put the number of farmworkers in the U.S. at 1.2 to 1.4 million, with about 75% falsely documented. In Florida, there are an estimated 150,000 farmworkers in the state with a similar rate of false documentation, although the rate among purely harvest workers is likely much higher.
Because the issue is so political, Carlton says it is impossible to predict how state and federal lawmakers will act on new immigration policy. “My biggest fear is people are so emotional on this issue and set [in their opinion] that we are going to have to have significant farm losses before legislators wake up,” he says. “We saw a taste of this in Georgia and in Alabama after they passed their laws.
“We don’t know the consequences of what’s happening in Georgia and Alabama and how it will impact labor here in Florida this year. We know farmworkers were avoiding driving through Georgia last year and likely will avoid Alabama. It almost blocks us off.”
A study conducted by the University of Georgia surveyed growers that represented approximately 46.6% of the state’s blueberry, blackberry, Vidalia onion, bell pepper, squash, cucumber, and watermelon acreage available for harvest this spring.
Surveyed growers reported a loss of anticipated crop revenue for the spring/summer harvest of more than $74 million. Assuming the grower responses in the study are representative of all growers of that commodity, the total loss at the farm gate attributed to labor shortage for the seven crops studied would be about $140 million. Total losses to the state’s economy are pegged at $391 million.

Not So Safe Haven

Local Labor Mythology

People with strong ideological positions on both sides insist that in the absence of these guestworkers, local labor will fill the void. From the right, comes the call, “Send them home and let them come in the legal way.” From the left, “End this form of indentured servitude, raise the pay more, locals will go back to work, and the President’s unemployment problem goes away.”
The problem with both the left and right’s point of view is the evidence of what’s happened in Georgia, and the troubles growers had sourcing labor here in Florida just with the threat of a state mandated E-Verify. The NCAE data shows that state workforce agencies referred 36,000 domestic workers to H-2A employers in 2010. Only 5% of those locals worked through their contract period.
And, what of those workers who should get in line and follow the legal channels for citizenship? According to a report by Reason Foundation, it is virtually impossible for unskilled workers to achieve citizenship. Even skilled workers face thousands of dollars in fees and wait times up to 11 to 16 years to obtain a green card and gain U.S. citizenship.
The only answer that works for agriculture is a temporary guestworker program that allows people in to work and return home after the job is done. This program must not burdened by prohibitive costs and bureaucracy that exemplifies the H-2A program. What is certain is this program will not be created without the concerted, unified, and collective voice of all agriculture, including you.

Little Letter, Big Fine

Topics:

Leave a Reply

Citrus Stories
storm clouds
CitrusSouth Florida Rainy Season Could Wind Up On Drier Side
May 20, 2015
National Weather Service anticipating El Niño to play a hand in possible below-normal conditions. Read More
CitrusBad Weather Or Not, Preparation Always On Radar For Florida Farmers [Opinion]
May 19, 2015
You cannot prevent a natural disaster from taking everything you have, but you can lessen the blow if and when it happens. Read More
CitrusSave Your Greenhouse Structures From Storms
May 19, 2015
Make sure your protected agriculture components are prepared for whatever may blow this way. Read More
BB Hobbs Inc. warehouse in Plant City, FL
CitrusBB Hobbs Bolsters Business In Central Florida
May 18, 2015
Irrigation specialists celebrate opening of new branch warehouse in Plant City. Read More
CitrusHouse Votes To Stop “Flawed” Waters Of The United States Rule
May 15, 2015
The U.S. House of Representatives approved this week bipartisan legislation that requires the withdrawal of the Waters of the United Read More
CitrusPointers On How To Save Money, Increase Sprayer Efficiency
May 15, 2015
Using clean water when calibrating a pesticide sprayer and carrying extra nozzles for quick repair of simple problems in the Read More
Wes Roan of Lipman Produce talks with participants of FFVA's Spring Regulatory Tour.
CitrusFlorida Farming Show & Tell Earns Regulators’ Respect
May 15, 2015
FFVA's annual Spring Regulatory Tour allows those who write regulations controlling water, crop protection chemicals, food safety, and more an opportunity to see production practices firsthand. Read More
The Latest
Operation Outdoor Freedom participants
CitrusFlorida Proud To Be Home Of The Brave [Opinion]
May 25, 2015
Operation Outdoor Freedom invites wounded service members and veterans of the U.S. military to enjoy recreational activities in state forests and on private lands. Read More
Expansion groundbreaking for Southwest Florida Research and Education Center
CitrusSouthwest Florida Research And Education Center Embraci…
May 20, 2015
A 7,000-square-foot addition to the UF/IFAS facility will house labs and offices for potential new faculty members. Read More
storm clouds
CitrusSouth Florida Rainy Season Could Wind Up On Drier Side
May 20, 2015
National Weather Service anticipating El Niño to play a hand in possible below-normal conditions. Read More
CitrusBad Weather Or Not, Preparation Always On Radar For Flo…
May 19, 2015
You cannot prevent a natural disaster from taking everything you have, but you can lessen the blow if and when it happens. Read More
CitrusSave Your Greenhouse Structures From Storms
May 19, 2015
Make sure your protected agriculture components are prepared for whatever may blow this way. Read More
BB Hobbs Inc. warehouse in Plant City, FL
CitrusBB Hobbs Bolsters Business In Central Florida
May 18, 2015
Irrigation specialists celebrate opening of new branch warehouse in Plant City. Read More
CitrusHouse Votes To Stop “Flawed” Waters Of The United State…
May 15, 2015
The U.S. House of Representatives approved this week bipartisan legislation that requires the withdrawal of the Waters of the United Read More
CitrusPointers On How To Save Money, Increase Sprayer Efficie…
May 15, 2015
Using clean water when calibrating a pesticide sprayer and carrying extra nozzles for quick repair of simple problems in the Read More
Wes Roan of Lipman Produce talks with participants of FFVA's Spring Regulatory Tour.
CitrusFlorida Farming Show & Tell Earns Regulators’…
May 15, 2015
FFVA's annual Spring Regulatory Tour allows those who write regulations controlling water, crop protection chemicals, food safety, and more an opportunity to see production practices firsthand. Read More
CitrusUSDA Announces $11.9M In Assistance For Organic Certifi…
May 14, 2015
Following on the heels of the USDA’s announcement of record growth in the organic sector, the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service Read More
CitrusBeekeepers Lost 40% Of Bees In 2014-15
May 14, 2015
Beekeepers across the U.S. lost more than 40% of their honey bee colonies from April 2014 to April 2015, according to the latest results of Read More
CitrusReport: Florida Agriculture Property Values Remain Firm
May 12, 2015
Lay of the land confirms farm tracts are good investment. Read More
CitrusFlorida Orange Crop Now Projected To Be Lowest In Nearl…
May 12, 2015
Not since the 1965-1966 season have production numbers looked so bleak. Read More
CitrusImportant Crop Insurance Deadline Nearing For Growers
May 12, 2015
Specialty crop, other producers need to certify conservation compliance by June 1. Read More
CitrusAbout 58,000 Jobs In Agriculture And Related Fields Are…
May 12, 2015
National report says the jobs reflect a need for a skilled and trained workforce to support a growing population. Read More
CitrusEPA Approves Experimental Use Permit Of Spinach Trait T…
May 8, 2015
Agency allows potential breakthrough to move forward for further testing. Read More
CitrusSyngenta Rejects Monsanto’s Buyout Bid
May 8, 2015
Company says $45 billion offer undervalues future prospects. Read More
CitrusMediterranean Fruit Fly Found In JFK Airport
May 5, 2015
The Mediterranean fruit fly, one of the world’s most destructive pests, was recently intercepted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Read More