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.
We wanted to let everyone know that we’ve scheduled a Three-Day Safety seminar for early August in Tifton. The cost is $300 per person and the sessions are targeted at front line supervisors that will be conducting training and not necessarily managers. If you know you’d like to sign up, here’s the link. If you’d like more detail read on.
While cotton gins are considered Agriculture in the eyes of OSHA, warehouses are not. OSHA requires all lift truck drivers in cotton warehouses to be properly trained as part their safety program. Prior to the pandemic, the Safety and Insurance committee recommended that we hold Train-the-trainer programs for those members that wanted to have Trainers on staff. We had held a couple of them in 2019 with good success
We contacted the company we’ve been working with on these trainings and worked with them to expand the program. They developed a Three-Day Program that covers several general safety topics and includes the Train-the-Trainer for lift trucks and elevated work platforms.
Since this program was developed relatively recently, we will only hold one such program this year but plan on doing at least one and possibly 2 next year based on participation.
This program is targeted at the front-line supervisors and trainers that have the most influence on the crews. These are the ones conducting the training either formally or on-the-job as most of our ‘training’ tends to be. This is not a purely “rules and regs” but a practical ‘why’ kind of training on many general safety topics but it includes the Train-the-Trainer on lift trucks and powered elevated work platforms. Participants will leave with the knowledge and materials to train their own employees in accordance with OSHA’s regs.
Space is limited to 25 participants. Lunch will be provided for two days. The session will be at the Micro-Gin at the University of Georgia in Tifton August 9-11. The address is in the EventBrite sign-up. Please follow this link above for registration or click here for more details.
A week ago, January 10, 2022, the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor posted a press release stating that 80 percent of gins investigated owed back wages or penalties for non-compliance with Labor Laws. Articles citing this press release have been published in newspapers and trade publications, large and small.
On January 12, we released the statement below. It is never any of our members intent to break the rules. Labor laws and rules governing agricultural labor are complex and often hard to understand. We are working with the Wage and Hour division and others on improving compliance among our members. Please give us a call if you have any questions regarding our statement.
Late Friday afternoon a three judge panel in the Sixth Circuit lifted the stay on the Biden Administration’s Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). The ETS has a number of ongoing law suits and a Federal appeals court placed a stay on the rule before it even got going. Now the Sixth Circuit has lifted that stay and the rule may proceed.
For review, this vaccine mandate only applies to employers with 100 or more employees company wide. OSHA has said it will use it’s enforcement discretion for this rule. OSHA will begin enforcing the rule on January 10 with a February 9 deadline for the vaccine or test requirements.
More will follow after we have a chance to digest this ruling. This is likely not the end of this and we will continue to see how this unfolds. If you have or have had more than 100 employees since November 5 (original date of rule) you will need to move forward with your compliance activities.
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.
As I mentioned in last weeks article, the OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) situation changes nearly every day. And that is indeed the case. Since I last wrote about this, the Fifth Circuit Stayed enforcement and implementation of the rule pending other cases.
The Circuit was the first to put an emergency stay on the rule on November 6. A week later it had heard arguments from both sides and said the stay would remain until a full hearing and final decision was made. That decision will likely come from the court selected to hear all the cases that have been filed as a consolidated case. Which court that will be is to be determined later this week.
Since multiple cases have been filed in multiple courts of appeals, OSHA as requested that they be consolidated. The move means the US Judicial Panel on Multijurisdictional Litigation will draw single court to hear the joint case. The lottery is currently scheduled for tomorrow the 16th of November.
Since this court has completely stayed the enforcement and implementation of the rule, this means that the December and January deadlines are likely not going to remain as they are. The court will likely lay out a time for arguments shortly after being selected but will give time for the litigants to work on their briefs as a group. While last week we expected to the process would be done by Thanksgiving, it seems pretty unlikely and not by the December 4 deadline.
What should you be doing Now.
I would still try to figure out whether the 100 employee minimum has any chance of touching you. If you MAY be under this rule, I would go ahead and be looking at making the decision on vaccine mandate or vaccine plus testing and get those decisions out of the way. If you will NOT be affected by this rule, as written, remember that OSHA is seeking comments on a permanent rule. They seem to have every intent on making this permanent and as broad as possible.
Just because the rule may not directly apply to you, you should have policies and procedures in place to help minimize the spread in your operation and/or housing. Whether you require vaccines, help people get vaccinated by working with a local health department or whatever, require masks, or whatever, you should be doing the steps necessary to keep your whole gin from going down at once. If you have an outbreak your goal is to keep it from taking the entire crew or office out. (That’s a lot easier said than done but that’s the goal.