UPDATE: The House Judiciary Committee has postponed a vote on H-2C.
United Farm Workers of America is calling a bill, set for a House committee vote Wednesday, that aims to reform the guest-worker program a threat to the industry.
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is pushing his recent Agricultural Guestworker Act, also called H-2C only two days after its release. Goodlatte said a revision to the current H-2A program is needed, calling it“outdated and broken.”
The current H-2A work visa allows ag employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic labor to hire foreign workers for temporary seasonal work.
Goodlatte said in a press release Monday that his bill would cut red tape and excessive costs for those employers:
“The AG Act replaces the flawed H-2A program with a new, flexible, and market-driven guestworker program that is designed to meet the needs of the diverse agriculture industry when not enough American workers can be found. The new program is to be operated by the USDA, an agency that clearly understands the unique needs of America’s farm and ranch operations and the importance of getting perishable agricultural commodities to the marketplace in an efficient manner, and expands the guestworker program to year-round agricultural employers. ” Goodlatte said.
United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez says he is “very much opposed” to the legislation.
“Certainly he didn't give folks enough time to review it or to study it or to analyze it. And we know exactly why. Because legislation would do nothing but de-stabilize the agricultural industry here in the United States.” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said the bill would take away workers’ benefits like transportation, accommodation, access to courts and a living wage.
The United Farm Workers have campaigned that the Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017, authored by Senator Feinstein and Representative Gutierrez, should be supported by Congress instead of Goodlatte’s bill.
Goodlatte tried to pass similar legislation in 2013. That year the bill cleared committee in a 20-16 vote, but was never taken up on the House floor.
National Milk Producers Federation wrote a letter to Goodlatte in support of the new legislation, stating "the Agriculture Guestworker Act (AG Act) represents a significant, positive step forward in solving the most acute labor problem our farmers face: access to a reliable and steady labor force." H-2C seeks to extend the 10-month contract period in the current H-2A program to 36 months “for workers in specialized, hard-to-fill jobs."
According to the Kentucky Career Center, 1211 contracts were issued under the H2-A program in 2017 for the Commonwealth.. H-2A Kentucky program coordinator Jeff Gatewood said that amounts to 7,483 workers, primarily working in field crops like tobacco.
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture did not return request for comment.