Goodlatte Officially Introduces the Ag Guestworker Act

Goodlatte Officially Introduces the Ag Guestworker Act

Photo by Ken Hammond.

On Monday, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced his Agricultural Guestworker Act of 2017 Bill, which would replace H-2A with an H-2C program. Rep. Goodlatte introduced the bill to the House Judiciary Committee, which he chairs.

During his address at United Fresh Produce Association’s Washington Conference in mid September, Rep. Goodlatte said he intends to move the bill through on a tight timetable. And that is exactly what he is doing. Rep. Goodlatte introduced the bill Monday night during a dinner with President Trump, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn and other key Republicans, according to New Food Economy.


The committee vote was originally scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 4, a mere day after most committee members had a chance to review the 49-page document. But the vote has been postponed, according the Judiary Committee page. At press time, the vote had not yet been rescheduled. Initial revisions to the bill has been posted, however, and as the bill moves forward, more may be added.

In 2013, when Goodlatte introduced the same bill, it passed out of committee, but was never taken up on the House floor.

American Vegetable Grower® will update this story after the vote.

Agricultural Guestworker Act of 2017 would pool all agricultural guestworkers into one program, and broaden it to include some year-round farms, such as dairy and fisheries, which currently do not qualify for H-2A. It would also allow for both contract and at-will employment, giving more flexibility to move workers from farm to farm, as needed. Another major change would be to move the program from the Department of Labor to USDA.

We reported with more depth on the details of the bill in late September 2017.

Who’s For and Against the Bill

Several groups have come out in support of the bill, most from the agricultural community. Supportive groups include American Farm Bureau Federation, and National Milk Producers Federation, Bloomberg BNA reports. Agriculture Workforce Coalition has also issued a statement of support, KTIC radio reports.

American Farm Bureau Federation, however, is concerned about the 500,000 cap provided for in the bill, fearing it will be inadequate for the demand.

Farm worker unions have come out against the bill, including United Farm Workers, the National Guestworker Alliance, and several other organizations. A common fear among these groups is that the bill would undermine fair labor practices and drive down wages for all farm workers.


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Russ says:

One big problem we have with H2A is the rate of pay. Here in Washington State, the local (non H2A) workers want the same pay rate as the H2A workers or they will not work for you. So if the going rate for work is $11.00 per hour and H2A comes along with a rate of $13.50 per hour, the local workers want the $13.50 as well. This may seem OK to some farmers, but then along comes the end of the year survey from WSU or UW asking what we paid our local (non H2A) workers. They don’t ask us why we paid, but just how much. They send this data up to whoever sets the H2A standards, which seems to dictate that H2A workers should receive a higher income than what the farmers pay the local workers. So then the next year, the H2A rate may be $14.24, then the cycle starts all over again. If only we could sell our produce at these rates of increase to keep up! At some point the cost will be greater than the income regardless if you are using the H2A people or the local people.

H2A is a slow knife in the back of all farmers. It will start by killing the smaller farms first and then work its way up to the larger farms and eventually collapse the whole system. The workers coming to America on H2A are from very low income countries were they make only a fraction of what they do here. Why can’t we bring the H2A people here and pay the local minimum wage, which currently is $11.00 per hour here in WA State. This would be fair to all and many times more than what they make in their own economies back in their own countries, of which there may not even be jobs available.

I am a small farmer and at this rate, I will be out of business within the next 10 years if something doesn’t change. Everything was working well until H2A showed up and screwed up the local economy. The guest worker program should benefit the farming community, not destroy it. Oh, and if you think that these foreign agricultural workers are taking American jobs, I am here to say that in the last nine years, I have not had one single American come looking for work and have had no success in find any American workers that want to work on a farm.

Jim says:

Russ is right on . We are a small grower in wa. st. we farm 55 acres of cherries and apples . At the present time we have 5 ladies as a picking crew. We are paying $14.00 per hour for picking.They do not make minimum wage at $32.00 per bin.