7th Annual Ag Labor Forum

Feb 2, 2021
If it involves ag labor, it was cited at virtual forum

Record-breaking attendance greeted speakers at the Seventh Annual Ag Labor Forum held Dec. 2-4. This year, due to COVID-19 concerns, the forum was presented in a virtual format by the National Council of Agricultural Employers (NCAE).

Participants enthusiastically embraced the program agenda of provocative, thoughtful presentations delivered by leaders in U.S. agriculture, immigration reform and labor law. Attendees left the forum with useful new tools and skills to embrace agricultural labor challenges that 2021 will deliver.

An insightful discussion was held regarding the 2020 election with one of the top agriculture lobbyists in Washington, D.C. He walked through the election results, what they might mean for agriculture and provided an inside look at the makeup of the 117th Congress. He also shared what ag might expect from a Biden administration and cabinet.

The economics of COVID-19 on America’s farms and ranches was dissected by the nation’s leading agriculture labor economist. He shared details of what the pandemic has wrought thus far in terms of business trends and shared analysis of what to expect next. Also discussed was the potential for increased mechanization of some presently labor-intensive farm tasks, given the challenges employers have faced keeping employees safe.

Attorneys guided the audience through the alphabet soup of labor regulations and how employers might best protect themselves and their legacy family businesses past the legal morass that noncompliance with sometimes confusing laws can bring to the operation. Strategies for keeping anti-farmer activists out of the family business were also discussed.

New agriculture labor regulation and legislation developed in California and Washington (always bellwethers for the rest of the country) were examined. Attendees were able to ask questions as to how they might best keep any bad agriculture labor ideas promulgated in those states from finding their way to others.

A panel of thought leaders examined the possibility for Congressional action for meaningful agricultural labor legislation in the new Congress and what attendees might do to help advance employer-friendly legislation through the House and the Senate. The goals of this exercise was to divine what opportunities might exist to successfully attain a presidential signature on legislation beneficial to ag employers and ensure the stability of the workforce for decades to come.

The new Adverse Effect Wage Rule from the Department of Labor was dissected by counsel. This effort teased out not only the details of what employers should expect, but also looked at how interpretations of the regulation, presently the subject of litigation by the United Farm Workers, might impact jobs on the farm. Information was also shared regarding the balance of the rule presently under review at the White House.

Two educational tracks led by attorneys, consultants and other individuals with subject matter expertise, explored the ins and outs of the federal H-2A regulations for beginning and seasoned users of the program. Details on payroll-related H-2A issues and regulatory compliance were sorted out. A deep dive was also done on public relations strategies in the H-2A environment.

Government officials from the Department of Labor Office of Foreign Labor Certification discussed yet another milestone being achieved for the number of positions certified for foreign workers in FY 2020 despite the pandemic. And investigators from the Wage & Hour Division explained how best to protect the farm and ranch enterprise from audits and potential costly fines.

The Ministers of Labor from Guatemala and Honduras “Zoomed” into the gathering from Guatemala City and Tegucigalpa to discuss their countries’ recently signed agreements with the Trump administration relative to H-2A labor. This was a fascinating discussion considering both countries’ struggles to recover from recent hurricanes.

NCAE was incredibly happy with the attendees’ enthusiasm for the program, much of which was eligible for continuing education credit from the Society of Human Resource Management. Participants also remarked how excited they will be to attend this year’s “Live” event returning to Las Vegas.

— Michael Marsh, president & CEO, National Council of Agricultural Employers; Photo at top by Gary Pullano.

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