Cotton Group Heads to Washington

Last week, a group of over 30 cotton growers and ginners from the Southeast made a trip to Washington, DC to speak to our representatives about a number of topics facing our industry. The group consisting of from 2 to 9 from each of the six southeastern states visited most of the offices of the Senators and Representatives from their respective states. While a few of the visits were with staffers alone, many of the Congressmen and women met with the groups.

Group meets with Congresswoman Roby, center, following their meeting.

The group wanted to relay our appreciation to Congress regarding inclusion in the last year of the 2014 Farm Bill and passage of the 2018 Farm Bill on time and in the process giving cotton the safety net we’ve been missing for some time. Other issues that were on the front of everyone’s mind was Disaster Assistance stemming from the two hurricanes that affected our region last year. Additionally, stabilizing trade and encouraging the President to finalize a trade deal with China were issues that had long term effects.

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March 2 is Right Around the Corner

Beginning in 2019 employers that are required to electronically file their OSHA 300A form data will have to do so by March 2. OSHA had been phasing in the electronic rule and has recently finalized an updated rule affirming the March 2 date.

Employers with 20 or more employees (at any point in the calendar year) and in certain industries (agriculture is on the list) are required to send in OSHA 300A log summary data each year by March 2 of the following year. So what this means is that cotton gins that had 20 or more employees must send in their OSHA 300A log summary information to OSHA for calendar year 2018 by March 2, 2019.

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OSHA Increases Fines Again

Last month (during the shutdown) OSHA, one of the agencies that didn’t get furloughed, published a final rule raising the maximum penalties once again. Back in 2016, the budget reconciliation act increased the maximum fines OSHA could levy. The fines at that point hadn’t been updated in 10 years and the change in 2016 more than doubled the max fines for Other than Serious, Serious, Willful and Repeated violations.

That same bill also directed OSHA to modify their fines annually to allow for inflation. Late last month, OSHA increased the maximum penalties for all levels of violations in response to that act. Today (as of Jan 24, 2019) the maximum penalty for a Other than Serious or Serious violation is $13,260. The maximum for Willful or Repeated violations is $132,589.

We’ve already seen some of this take effect where a gin that had a reportable injury was about 24hrs late and had a proposed fine of $6,600. It is important that you report injuries in the timeframe that OSHA has set out. If you have questions please let us know.

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Passing of a Legend

Myrl Mitchell was a legend in the ginning industry. If you ever, and I mean EVER, met Myrl, you knew it. He and his sons farmed and ran a small gin in the west Texas town of Lenorah. Although retired some years ago, Myrl and his wife Mercedine were a fixtures at the Texas Gin show, the National Cotton Council Meetings as well as the Beltwide Cotton Conference.

Myrl was known as the “Last Honest Ginner”. As I recall, that moniker came from one one of his stints as a ginner representative to the Universal Standards Conference. He was the only ginner to volunteer to retrieve the Grade Standards from the vault in Memphis when USDA staff asked for an “honest ginner” to go with the group. He said “Well, it looks like I’m the last honest ginner”. The name stuck.

He held just about every position in the cotton world that a ginner could hold. He was Texas Cotton Ginner President, Plains Cotton Growers President, National Cotton Ginners President, Chair of the Joint Cotton Industry Bale Packaging Committee. Was a delegate to the Council, a director to the Council and recipient of the National Ginner of the Year award.

Myrl passed away on Saturday February 2. He will be missed by all that had the honor to know and work with him.

It’s OSHA 300 Time Again

Well, it’s that time again. Nope…I’m not talking about Tax Season, although that is going to be here soon enough. I’m talking about it’s time to make sure your OSHA 300 form is filled out and posted.

The OSHA 300 form is one form that nearly all employers have to fill out and keep around for five years. The only employers that wouldn’t fill one out are those that never have 10 or more employees throughout the year. Nearly all gins have more than 10 employees. The 300 form can be downloaded from this page and should be finalized for the previous calendar year. Ideally, you should be filling out the form 300 as the year progresses and adding injuries and illnesses as they occur (if you have any, that is.). The form would be totaled out and the information transferred to the OSHA 300A Summary form for Posting.

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H2A Users Face New Minimum Wage

The department of Labor Employment and Training Administration recently published rules concerning the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR). This is the lowest wage that H2A employers must pay workers. This increase is much steeper than in past years. The new wage goes into effect tomorrow, January 9, 2019. IF you are a user of H2A you need to be aware of this change. Any work that takes place starting tomorrow must be paid at the higher rate.

The new rates for NC and VA is $12.25 up from the current $11.46. SC, AL and GA are all $11.13 up from $10.95. Florida actually goes down to $11.24 from $11.29. Remember this is only the wage for H2A employers and NOT a federal minimum wage.

H2A is a last ditch program if you cannot find workers in traditional manner. If you are not an H2A employer, please disregard this article. There only a hand full of gins that use H2A but this is important and we wanted to make sure all of you are aware of this change.

There has been a law suit filed and motion for an injunction to try to stop this from going in but it hasn’t been picked up by the court as of this writing. We hope this will get injoined but right now the new wages go up for work beginning tomorrow. IF this changes, we will update this article. Stay tuned.