March 2022 - 34

Washington holds key to progress on ag labor reform
President & CEO
National Council of
Agricultural Employers
American agriculture can remain
sustainable given intense foreign
Federal regulatory and legislative
Custom harvesters, apple and other
fruit growers, vegetable growers, dairy
farmers, agents, associations and farm
labor contractors were treated to a
jam-packed agenda at the National
Council of Agricultural Employers'
(NCAE) 58th Annual Meeting that
concluded Feb. 10.
The two U.S. senators who are leading
the charge to wrest a bipartisan ag
labor reform bill from their chamber to
conference with the Farm Workforce
Modernization Act (FWMA) that
passed the House in March 2021,
addressed attendees. Sens. Michael
Bennet, D-Colorado, and Mike Crapo,
R-Idaho, each provided their take
on what will be required to move
legislation in this Congress.
Bennet expressed confidence that
he could bring his fellow Democrats
in support of the legislation while
Crapo noted the challenges of
securing at least nine of his colleagues
to join him in moving the legislation
off the Senate floor. Both senators
reaffirmed their support to moving
the more employer-friendly bill which
added a note of optimism to their
And not to be outdone by
their Senate colleagues, House
of Representatives Jim Costa,
D-California, David Valadao,
R-California, Maria Salazar, R-Florida
and Zoe Lofgren, D-California,
H-2A Pinch Point Panel featuring H-2A Committee Chair, Ryan Ayres, with FirstFruits
Farms; Dave Petrocco, Petrocco Farms; Jim Saunders, Saunders Brothers; and Jamie
Fussell. Photo: NCAE
similarly shared their views on the
prospects of getting legislation onto
President Joe Biden's desk.
Costa, the second-highest ranking
Democrat member on the House Ag
Committee, cited his dairy background
in recognizing that dairymen must have
access to a legal workforce and that
reform is critical. Valadao, a former
dairyman, concurred. However, he
also noted that immigration reform is
a tough issue for Republicans as more
conservative members of the caucus are
likely to reject anything someone could
refer to as amnesty.
Lofgren, author of the FWMA in
the House, recognized NCAE for its
support of moving the legislation
forward in the process. She recognized
that the Senate version would likely
differ from what the House has done
but pledged to work in good faith to get
legislation across the finish line. Salazar
reported that she had introduced
legislation called the Dignity Act in the
lower chamber the previous day and
was excited to discuss it with NCAE.
She noted her bill would do much of
what was included in the FWMA but
with a more employer-friendly bent.
She said her bill would strengthen
border security, as well.
A panel of experts led by NCAE H-2A
Committee Chair Ryan Ayres discussed
pinch points in ag employer processes.
Not only were H-2A pinch points
discussed but similarly, that many of the
most vexing pinch points are wounds
ill-informed legislatures were imposing
in the states. Not only must employers be
adept at navigating a restrictive federal
bureaucracy, but increasingly states are
imposing additional costs on employer
viability too.
NCAE members, armed with talking
points and personal passion, spent time
on Capitol Hill with their members
of Congress, reminding them that the
reason we have food to eat is because
of the commitment of U.S. farmers
and ranchers. They stressed in these
meetings the importance of assuring
updates were provided by attorneys
Shawn Packer and Jonathan Sarager. The
gentlemen took deep dives into what
appears to be a nonstop deluge of new
regulations and shared what is and is not
happening in the halls of Congress.
Representatives from many
government agencies provided
presentations to the group. The
Department of Homeland Security's
Citizenship and Immigration Services
spoke about their continuing efforts
during the pandemic. Department of
State Visa Policy Analyst Dale Lim
shared tales from the trenches from his
policy shop.
The Deputy Special Counsel from
the Department of Justice identified hot
topics for employers to be aware of in
2022. Chairwoman Charlotte Burrows
and Commissioner Keith Sonderling
of the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission reminded attendees of
the commission's focus on protecting
against discrimination in the workplace.
Further, the Department of Labor
discussed the ongoing licensure issue
regarding farm labor contractors and
the delays employers were experiencing.
NCAE followed this discussion up with
a letter to Labor Secretary Marty Walsh
encouraging his office to get involved in
resolving these delays.
NCAE's 58th Annual Meeting was
a terrific opportunity for members to
welcome re-engagement in an in-person
format. It was great to see everyone once
again as NCAE charts its course into
2022. FGN
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March 2022

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