Mar 17, 2020
Farm Workforce Modernization Act holds potential

Not every member of the U.S. House of Representatives has agricultural production in their district. The same cannot be said for the U.S. Senate.

U.S. senators represent all the congressional districts in their states. And, every state has some agricultural production found within its borders. I know, because I checked.

The scale, scope and value of that production varies greatly by state as you might imagine. It ranges from the tens of billions of dollars per year in states like California and Texas to the tens of millions of dollars in the states of Alaska and Rhode Island.

The scale of the state’s production doesn’t really matter for this article, but a single number does. That number that matters is two.

In early December 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 5038, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. The legislation had bipartisan support which is a rarity in the Congress these days. Democrats and Republicans reached across the aisle to advance the first agricultural labor reform out of that chamber since 1986.

The year 1986 was the last time the New York Mets won the World Series and the Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl in January. Of course, the Bears were notorious that season for creation of “The Super Bowl Shuffle” featuring Jim McMahon, Walter Payton, Mike Singletary and William “Refrigerator” Perry. Remember? 1986 was a while ago.

This brings us back to the number two.

Agricultural labor reform now shifts its focus to the U.S. Senate. The Senate could pick up HR 5038 and attempt to move it through committee and onto the floor of the Senate. This seems to be an unlikely outcome. Does this mean we might have to wait another 34 years for another crack at reform?

Within our early meetings with Senators and their staff, we have been told the Senate is far more likely to move their own legislation than adopt the House bill. This is important and a good thing.

The reason this is a good thing is that from an employer’s perspective, we’d like to see a bill that is more friendly. You see, with this new legislation being created in the Republican-controlled Senate, it is a remote possibility that the United Farm Workers and similarly minded anti-farmer advocates will be involved in negotiations. Consequently, farmers and ranchers will get to piece together a bill fitting their operations better than the House version with more protections for employers.

There will be give and take in this Senate process as the effort will again be made to forge bipartisan agreement. Fifty-one votes are necessary to advance a bill off the Senate floor and, given that every senator has agriculture in their state, a strong majority could be cobbled together to pass an agriculture-friendly bill.

But what happens then?

Following successful passage out of the Senate, a conference committee comprised of House and Senate conferees would be assembled to work out the differences between the House and the Senate bills. Successfully compiling a conference report would then send that report back to the respective chambers for a vote, yea or nay.

Should the conference report pass both chambers, it would then proceed to President Donald Trump for his signature.

And that’s where we come again to the importance of the number two. I have an ask.

Each state has two U.S. senators, so all the senators represent agriculture within their states. Please take a few minutes and give their offices a call. They love to hear from constituents! They need to hear from you that we need both of your senators support on agricultural labor reform.

It’s too important to farm and ranch families and, for heaven’s sake, we can’t wait another 34 years.

— Michael Marsh, president & CEO, National Council of Agricultural Employers





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