“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
Senator Bill Nelson
Florida Governor Rick Scott
U.S. Congress Members of the Judiciary Committee:
Dennis Ross (Florida’s 12th District)
Ted Deutch (Florida’s 19th District)
Sandy Adams (Florida’s 24th District)
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
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.
“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.”
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
Putting the normal complaints aside, many argue the DOL can’t handle the new users of H-2A that would be forced by a mandatory E-Verify program, if it were to pass. “The bottom line is they won’t be able to handle the program if E-Verify comes on board,” says Carlton. “There were about 6,500 H-2A applications last year, which represents approximately 60,000 guestworkers. Conservatively, under mandatory E-Verify, the number of applications would balloon to 150,000, representing a 20-fold increase in the amount of workers needed.”
Local Labor Mythology
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.
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
The fine for not notifying the DOL that an immigrant guestworker has left an H-2A job is $10.