Showing posts with label gary black. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gary black. Show all posts

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Donald Trump's agriculture advisor in Georgia expresses concerns about farm labor

Gary Black, Georgia’s Commissioner of Agriculture and a member of Donald Trump's agriculture policy advisory council, expressed his concern about farm labor issues and their effect on Georgia’s farmers during a listening session that included representatives from the offices of Senators David Perdue and Johnny Isakson.

In a news release after the meeting, he is quoted as saying, “We are talking today about what we need to do now to ensure our farmers have the labor they need in the spring,” said Commissioner Black.

The release goes on to say:

During the meeting Georgia farmers Drew Echols, Russ Goodman and Chris McCorkle relayed the many challenges they faced this year while attempting to use the federal H-2A program. The H-2A program is a critically important tool for America’s farmers and ranchers who need timely, legal and dependable workers to harvest valuable crops which are seasonal in nature.

“There is no debate on the fact that the H-2A program is our best option for harvesting our crops. We just hope to work with the Department of Labor to find ways to strengthen that program in the future,” said blueberry farmer Russ Goodman. “It is very important that they understand that we have a time-sensitive commodity and any amount of delay can have a huge impact on our bottom line.”

The listening session highlighted the need for enhanced coordination to eliminate processing delays within the H-2A program. During the 2016 spring harvest, Georgia farmers faced millions of dollars in crop losses as the Department of Labor struggled to process an increased number of applications for foreign migrant labor.

“We are not here to point fingers, but instead to have a proactive and constructive conversation on how to avoid the missteps from last year and safeguard against it ever happening again,” Black said.

The news release does not mention Donald Trump or his views on immigration policy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Georgia farm leaders complain about U.S. Labor Department threatening their 2016 crops

Georgia’s Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black joined other farm leaders in Washington on April 22, 2016, to complain about U.S. Department of Labor delays in processing H-2A applications.

Agriculture is Georgia’s largest industry, and many farmers depend on temporary, nonimmigrant workers to plant and harvest crops and handle other agriculture-related activities, especially fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries, which are becoming an increasing percentage of Georgia’s agricultural output.

Commissioner Black stated that he had look at a survey of 56 contracts in Georgia and found that “about 1,200 workers arrived on time and nearly 3,000 workers have been late with an average of 8 days.”

Commissioner Black stated that blueberry growers in South Georgia are beginning their annual harvesting now with one producer having contracted for 514 people who were due 3 weeks ago.

Bill Brim of Lewis Taylor Farms in Tifton, Georgia, said that he has used the cumbersome and arduous H-2A program since 1997 to pick the farm’s 6,000 acres of produce.

Mr. Brim said he understood that USDA, the U.S. Department of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security “have their problems that they deal with on a daily basis as well, but they have a little control over their process, and we don’t.”

Right now, Mr. Brim says Georgia has blueberries, squash and cucumbers coming in and “we don’t have the labor to pick it.”

Zippy Duvall, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation and past president of the Georgia Farm Bureau, said that the Department of Labor is required to approve H-2A applications 30 days prior to when farmers need workers in the field, but that deadline is routinely missed.

“The backlog is about 30 days in the processing of H2A applications,” Duvall said. “Crops are not going to wait for the labor to get there. Crops will continue to mature and rot in the field if we do not get something done and done quickly.”

Section 218 of the Immigration and Nationality Act authorizes the lawful admission into the United States of temporary, nonimmigrant workers (H-2A workers) to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) is responsible for stating, among other things, that there are not sufficient workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available, and that the employment of aliens will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of workers similarly employed in the U.S.

H-2A workers and domestic workers in corresponding employment must be paid special rates of pay that vary by locality, must be provided housing and transportation from that housing to the job site if their employment requires them to be away from their residence overnight, and must be guaranteed an offer of employment for a total number of hours equal to at least 75% of the work period specified in the contract.

The issue of a scarcity of bringing in farm labor from other countries comes at a time of national debate over immigration.

While H-2A workers are meant to be in the U.S. only temporarily and not meant to be permanent immigrants, the role of foreign workers either on a temporary or more permanent basis is becoming more controversial in this Presidential election year.

The Department of Labor retorts that they have processed 90 percent of H-2A applications in a timely manner.

DOL defines “timely” as the percentage of “complete H-2A applications resolved 30 days before the start date of need. A complete H-2A application is defined as one containing all the documentation (e.g., housing inspection report, workers’ compensation, recruitment report) necessary for the OFLC Certifying Officer to issue a final determination 30 days before the start date of need.”

The U.S. Department of Labor made their statistics available, which can be seen here.

An audio recording of the April 22 news conference is available here