Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson announced this week the creation of a working group in the House Agriculture Committee to look at the challenges facing farm labor. The group is made up of 14 Ag Committee members with co-chairs from both sides of the aisle.
Rick Crawford from Arkansas and Don Davis from North Carolina will act as co-chairs. Beside Chairman Davis, David Rouser from North Carolina will also represent our region on the working group.
The Group will be looking primarily at the H-2A program and gathering input from users and potential users to help make recommendations to reform the program. The committee will return a report to the committee. The Judiciary Committee is the committee that typically handles immigration issues. The last immigration reform legislation failed to move in the Senate after the House twice passed the Farmworker Modernization Act. Southeastern Cotton Ginners did not have a position on that legislation.
This past week, the Department of Labor has published the new Adverse Effect Wage Rate for 2022. The new wages actually start on December 29 and until new AEWR’s are published next year. This means that if you are using H-2A labor, Starting December 29, 2021 you will need to pay them and US workers in corresponding employment the NEW AEWR. These rates are set by state or groups of states.
2022 AEWR (Dec 29, 2021)
We’re also monitoring potential changes that the DoL has recently published as a proposed rule. The proposed rule has the potential to significantly affect the H-2A wages in many industries. We’re not clear on exactly how the proposed changes will affect gins that use the H-2A program. We will update as things firm up.
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
Even though this year has barely gotten under way for most gins, the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor has started making its presence felt in much of our region. We have recently received reports of virtual investigations in NC, SC and AL. We understand an in-person investigation is scheduled but has yet to be conducted in SC.
This is the second year of a regional cotton gin emphasis program. Association staff has met with Wage and Hour staff in both NC and SC recently. It was a very constructive meeting. They provided the documents linked at the bottom of this article for ginners resources. We can only assume that this emphasis program will continue until a low number of violations (even very minor ones) are found. This is the first time that NC has been involved. It is unknown how many gins will be inspected in any given state but last year 10-15 gins across the region were visited.
Each year, the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Association holds a labor relations forum. This forum brings speakers from many aspects of agricultural labor from regulators to farm labor contractors (FLC’s) to attorneys for employers to discuss anything and everything affecting the ag community.
The forum is geared toward the produce and fruit industries but as we have become more reliant on migrant workers and more gins have had to resort to desperate measures to find labor, our interests are running together. This year’s forum has gone virtual.
Normally held in October/November each year and held in Tifton, this forum is not typically friendly to gin participation. The organizers have elected to make this a virtual meeting in light of Covid and it is spread out over a longer period. This may give you (our membership) more opportunity to listen in and participate.
This is the second year we have been a sponsor of this forum. It is a good opportunity to learn more about how other industries are dealing with the legal and regulatory aspects of migrant labor and H2A.
Earlier this year the USCIS announced a new I-9 form. The I-9 is the document that employers must use every time they put a new employee on the payroll. We discussed this in an earlier blog post when the new form was announced in January. The M-274 is the manual that goes along with the I-9 and contains a lot of really good information that helps when understanding how the I-9 works.
Probably more importantly, the M-274 explains what to do and what not to do when filling one out or having a new employee fill one out.