Wage and Hour Ag Emphasis Program Nationally with Southeast Target

The US Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division announced last week that they will be initiating a Emphasis Program for Agricultural Employers in the US. Earlier in the week, they had specifically mentioned the Southeast. Both Releases will be linked below.

Cotton gins in the Southeast have been targeted for the past few years with several in each state receiving special attention from the Wage and Hour division. In the coming weeks we will be publishing more information on compliance but for now please find the DoL’s ag compliance toolkit. It has several links that will get you started.

Remember, cotton gins have partial exemptions from over time that are not covered in the toolkit. Those carve-outs bring with them extra responsibilities such as keeping up with daily vs weekly overtime.

These emphasis programs are NOT just for H-2A employers but all of agriculture.

The Wage and Hour Ag Toolkit can be found here: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/compliance-assistance/toolkits/agriculture

Southeast Emphasis Program: https://www.dol.gov/newsroom/releases/whd/whd20210308

National Agricultural Emphasis Program: https://www.dol.gov/newsroom/releases/whd/whd20210325

Please don’t hesitate to call with any questions.

DSF

REMINDER

The National Cotton Ginners and USDA will be holding Ginner Training Seminars each week for the next three weeks. These seminars are in lieu of the Ginners School that is normally conducted each Spring/Summer at the Gin Labs.

Registration for the seminars is required and is separate for each. You may attend any or all but you need to register for the ones you want to attend.

You can register for these online seminars at the links below and more information can be found on the NCGA website at www.cotton.org/ncga/ginschool/index.cfm.

Week 1 – April 6, 2021
https://cotton.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJEufuCgrD4uG91N_XDwwmASiMwMDSfTAh73

Week 2 – April 13, 2021
https://cotton.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJMvduCspjMsHN39eggf-aze8_NUlex_04IS

Week 3 – April 20, 2021
https://cotton.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJcufuiorTIiGtAXf51GWGYXfdj0Q4DGNpAF

Passing of Frank Bledsoe

When one of our members hurts, we all hurt. Frank Bledsoe, Owner of Tri-Co Peanut and Gin in Unadilla passed away Saturday at home. Services for Frank will be this Tuesday April, 6. The full obituary can be found here OBITUARY. The family has asked for donations in lieu of flowers. Our thoughts and prayers are with Franks family and friends and the Tri-Co gin staff.

DSF

The House Passes Two Immigration Bills… On to the Senate

The House of Representatives passed two immigration reform measures yesterday aimed at providing farm workers and others legal status and reforming the H-2A Program.

The more limited of the bills would allow for a path to citizenship for those that were brought here as minors. These are the so-called “DREAMERS”. This group has been able to work in this country for some time under an executive order in the Obama administration. President Trump tried several times to overturn the EO unsuccessfully. The Trump administration said that this was a job for the Congress, not the executive order.

The Dreamers have been working under what is referred to as “deferred action for childhood arrivals”. The bill would allow them to have a permanent status and a path to citizenship.

The second bill is the Farmworker Modernization Act (FWMA). This bill passed the House in December of 2019. The bill has significant reforms to the H-2A program and allows for those that have been working in the US illegally in agriculture to have a path to permanent status and possibly to citizenship. The bill isn’t without warts although many of the H-2A changes are things that agriculture has been working on for some time.

Several ag groups have supported the passage of the FWMA but many are on the sidelines until some changes can be discussed in the Senate including the American Farm Bureau.

Speaking of the Senate. We have been told that major immigration legislation will be passed out of the Senate but that’s not to say that these bills are dead. It will take some significant changes to get enough republicans to support the measures. We are monitoring these changes and since many of our members are now using the H-2A program, we are working with other commodity groups to protect our ability to have a reliable legal workforce going forward. Stay Tuned

DSF

COVID Isn’t Over….Unfortunately

As vaccines have been rolling out and availability has expanded, many or most of our customers and employees have developed some immunity but we can’t drop the procedures just yet. We have OSHA to deal with and they’ve stepped it up a notch and probably have more to come.

President Biden promised a Emergency Temporary Standard by March 15th. Well that didn’t quite happen but OSHA has circulated a draft internally from well informed reports. In its place, they published a national emphasis program for targeted industries. Cotton gins and agriculture in general is not in the targeted group but don’t be surprised if you have to answer questions about Covid procedures and protocols if you have to have an interaction with OSHA for the foreseeable future.

While life for most of cotton country is getting back to a semblance of ‘normal’ we need to be aware that this will have a long tail I’m afraid. We should expect to have outbreaks and rules and regs lingering. We still have people working for us out there that have underlying conditions and have not had covid or been vaccinated. We need to do what we can to help protect them at least while they’re at work.

To get a hint of what will likely be in a “temporary standard” please go to https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus/safework. Virginia is one of the first State Plan States to have a permanent standard for Covid. We’ve written about this previously and as we get a better picture on enforcement in Virginia, we’ll likely write about it again.

As we get into repair season, lets do our best to keep Covid out of the gin and keep our year-round employees safe.

DSF

OSHA ITA Portal Accepting Reports

Last week we reported that OSHA’s ITA portal, the place you put your OSHA 300A summary information, was having some issues. Not that they are all resolved but the page is still up and is accepting data. We have heard from a couple of gins that had not made the deadline due to the problem, that they were able to make reports either late last week or in the last day or so.

If you had not submitted your data and still need to do so, we wanted to remind you that you can still get the data in.

DSF