What is in this article?:
- Southeast farm leaders ask for guestworker program reforms
- Strict immigration laws
- Developed pilot program
• Growers believe the U.S. Labor Department, which largely administers the H-2A program, is hostile to them and the program.
• Growers are also troubled by the great cost of using the H-2A program, especially the ‘adverse effect wage rate.
Strict immigration laws
Georgia is one of several states, including Alabama and North Carolina, that have enacted strict immigration reform laws that have resulted in farm labor shortages.
After passing the law in Georgia, the state’s legislature directed Georgia’s Department of Agriculture to conduct a study on the labor needs of agriculture.
“The survey revealed statistics specifically addressing the need for agricultural guestworker reform. Twenty-six percent of survey respondents reported a loss of income due to the lack of available workers.
“Although only 26 percent reported losses, these losses estimated in the excess of $10 million. Further analysis of this statistic suggests those in the fruit and vegetable industry experienced the greatest losses,” said Black.
More than 50 percent of respondents who produce blueberries, cabbage, cantaloupe, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, squash, tobacco and watermelon reported income losses in 2011 due to lack of workers, he added.
“The survey also found that while 52 percent of the respondents did not have issues finding full-time labor, 21percent did. Poor economy, loss of revenue, poor worker retention, and lack of workers were listed as major reasons for hiring fewer workers in 2011.
“Similarly, 48 percent of respondents found their part-time workforce to be about the same over the last five years while 20 percent reported their workforce was smaller.”
Producers, he said, expressed both concern and frustration with the eligibility requirements of H-2A. In response to why producers do not use the H-2A program, 40.1 percent said the question was not applicable to their operation.
Many respondents felt that H-2A was too expensive and too complicated. More than 26 respondents were not familiar with the program, and almost 17 percent said they had heard negative things about the H-2A program.
Survey respondents indicated it was not difficult to retain experienced workers once hired, but it was somewhat difficult to find experienced workers to hire.
Shortly after the Georgia legislation was signed into law, said Black, producers began reporting labor shortages.
“During the month of June, Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, worked with various agricultural associations to place unemployed Georgians in these positions.
“Even with unemployment rates hovering around 10 percent, this task was not as easy as it would seem.
“For example, one Georgia producer shared he had one employee that worked half a day one week and two half-days the next week. This employee earned a total of $119. The employee walked off the job and did not return though plenty of work was available.
“In addition, the employee filed an unemployment claim, and the producer received notification that the employee was eligible for $235 weekly benefits for 17 weeks.
“The producer filed a timely appeal, and it was finally determined that he was not responsible. In addition to harvesting his crops to earn a living, the producer had to take time to ensure he was not held financially responsible for the employee’s irresponsibility.
“We have heard similar complaints from producers regarding the 50 percent rule of H-2A. I do not believe employers should bear this unnecessary burden as they try to create jobs and stimulate our economy. Producers would rather employ Americans, and this aspiration should not be overlooked. Unfortunately, the immediate reality trumps those aspirations.”