Vass, NC –
The North Carolina Growers Association (NCGA), along with Immigration Works USA sponsored a forum entitled “Making the Best of a Broken System”. A nationally representative group of key stakeholders from Arizona to New England to Florida were in attendance to discuss the H-2A guest worker program and its role as an agricultural labor solution.
Panelists included NCGA’s own Stan Eury and Lee Wicker, Immigration Works’ Tamar Jacoby, former U.S. Department of Labor Assistant Secretary for Policy Leon Sequiera, and a group of NCGA’s current H2-A users.
Topics included the advantages as well as the many challenges of using NCGA’s model to navigate the H-2A program, as well as the potentially expanded role the program may have in the future if increased enforcement of immigration laws continues. Attendees heard how NCGA has interacted with regulatory agencies, farmworker advocates, and labor unions from the perspective of H-2A experts, immigration and policy experts, as well as the ground level users of the program.
Overwhelmingly, stakeholders agree that the H-2A program has the potential to be a key tool for agricultural employers seeking a reliable workforce for current and future seasons. Panelists and attendees agreed that in order for the H-2A program to fulfill its potential, political action is necessary to streamline the overburdening regulations, and restore a competitive balance for H-2A users who are currently subject to increased costs for obtaining labor in a legal manner rather than relying on an undocumented, transient workforce.
Here, in a retrofitted hangar in the heart of tobacco country, is an early glimpse of what life could be like if the recent Senate compromise on immigration passes. Two busloads of tobacco workers, fresh from the Mexican state of Nayarít, are met and ministered to by a cadre of social and health workers, a federal agent from the Department of Labor, even a union organizer. In all, they spend almost four hours filling out paperwork, watching movies about how to avoid pesticide sickness and getting a set of no-nonsense rules (if you fight, you’re fired; don’t use the fire extinguisher to cool your beer) from the North Carolina Growers Association, the organization that brought them from Mexico. They are then driven to farms scattered across the state, where they will spend the summer months picking tobacco before heading back to Mexico.
The fragile Senate bill rests on three pillars: legalization of illegal residents, tighter border controls and the creation of a new guest-worker program that would grant up to 200,000 two-year visas annually. North Carolina, which imports more legal farmworkers than any other state, offers an idea of how the guest-worker proposal might look in action. During the past growing season, I canvassed the state, from the Christmas-tree farms in the western mountains to the crab plants on the eastern shore, and found a guest-worker program that is orderly, rational, legal–and almost completely unworkable as it currently exists.
Read more here.
March 17, 2009, Press Release
H-2A Employers Seeking to Hire Legally Documented Farm Workers Are Thrown into Disarray as Growing Season Begins
PRESS RELEASE: Vass, NC March 17, 2009: The North Carolina Growers Association members have long depended on the H-2A Temporary Foreign Agricultural Worker program to provide a legal workforce to plant and harvest the state’s crops. Today, the Secretary of Labor published a proposed rule to suspend the regulations implementing the program that just went into effect on January 17th. NCGA President Stan Eury condemned this action stating, “The H-2A user community was operating under the new regulations that met the needs of agriculture while improving working conditions for farmworkers. Now, through an arbitrary decision by the new Secretary of Labor, our growing season is in jeopardy. This proposed suspension is politically based. It is disingenuous of the new Administration to proclaim that they are revisiting the new regulations on behalf of growers.”
Now with over 80 percent of the 1.6 million agricultural workers presenting fraudulent documents, it is critical to have a functioning H-2A program. The old regulations prevented many in farming from utilizing the program because of its high costs and bureaucratic hurdles. Only around 50,000 farmworkers per year came into the U.S. under the old H-2A program. With the new changes, more employers across the country should be able to secure a legal workforce as we have in North Carolina for decades.
The formidable farmworker advocate and United Farmworkers (UFW) lobby opposes these changes. As noted in the proposed Department of Labor rule, they failed to have the courts issue a temporary restraining order against the new regulations. These special interests now have the ear of Secretary Solis and she is doing what she can to block implementation. They are distorting the provisions of the new rules, claiming that they do not ensure the recruitment of U.S. workers and lower the standards for wages and other working conditions. These allegations are simply not the case. The recruitment provisions of the final regulations go far beyond what these same advocates supported in the ill-fated AgJOBS legislation of the past decade. And, with potentially more farming operations in the program, wages and benefits – housing, transportation, workers compensation insurance, etc. – will actually increase for those U.S. farmworkers with legal documents referred against H-2A job orders.
Feb 1, 2008
North Carolina Growers’ Association and Farm Labor Organizing Committee Sign Precedent Setting Collective Bargaining Extension for H2-A Guest Workers
The North Carolina Growers’ Association (NCGA), the nation’s largest user of the H2-A guest worker program, has reached an historical agreement with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), a labor union that represents farm workers. The agreement extends what is not only the first labor agreement involving agricultural guest workers, but is also the first transnational labor agreement in U.S. history.
As a result of this agreement, and under the representation of FLOC, NCGA’s workers will enjoy freedom of association (the right to join a union), as well as a grievance procedure that mandates resolution of any employment related dispute in a timely fashion. The grievance procedure is unique in that it covers any issues that may arise while the worker is being recruited in Mexico, as well as any that arise during their employment period in the United States. Grievances will be resolved by the Dunlop Agricultural Commission, a private labor relations board. Under the agreement, NCGA’s workers also receive the following benefits:
- A seniority system for recruitment
(Any worker who completes their contract as a guest worker will be eligible to return in future seasons, so there is no possibility for “blacklisting”.)
- Injury Pay
(If a worker is hurt on the job, they are compensated as if they had worked the remainder of the day.)
- Three Days Bereavement Pay if a family member dies during their contract period
- A worker benevolent fund that helps workers pay for basic needs in the event of a long-term injury
- Access to a variety of non-profit organizations while at their labor camps, and even during work hours if necessary.
- A cooperative relationship with NCGA in the disposition of worker’s compensation cases
While virtually all other action regarding the current immigration crisis can be regarded as “just talk”, the North Carolina Growers’ Association and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee have taken real action. Their creative approach to labor relations not only increases the viability of the guest worker program for employers and employees, but increases it’s political viability as well, making it a possible key to the passage of meaningful immigration reform.