The U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants Congress to loosen the wages for the migrants who will provide the nation’s agricultural workforce under the Democrats’ pending farmworker amnesty bill.
“The proposed prevailing wage levels for temporary agricultural workers … should be more responsive to market needs,” the business group said in an October 30 letter.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would take important steps to address the growing struggle of agricultural employers to meet their workforce needs.
We are committed to working with members of both parties to address these and other issues to improve the bill as it proceeds through the legislative process.
The pending legislation provides a gradual amnesty for the resident population of 500,000-plus illegal migrants who accept low-wage jobs at farms, meat-processing slaughterhouses, and food canneries. Democrats want the amnesty to spur their political support, but any amnesty would allow the industry’s labor force to take up their green cards and get jobs in urban areas.
So the bill creates a replacement workforce by streamlining the unlimited inflow of H-2A visa workers and by capping the wages paid to those imported visa workers.
The migrants’ wages are to be capped at state or federal minimum wages — unless unions can bargain for a better deal — or by agency officials. This arrangement between Congress and employers effectively federalizes the future agricultural workforce, and so it denies American farmworkers — and their children — the chance to win higher wages amid normal labor shortages.
The resulting flood of low-wage H-2A migrants is likely to displace the roughly half-million American employees who work in the agriculture sector, so further shriveling the economic health of the nation’s agricultural districts.
The bill acknowledges the likely damaging impact of unlimited H-2A visa workers on Americans, saying on page 64 that government officials should study the economic impact and report back to Congress:
Beginning in fiscal year 2026, the Secretary of Agriculture and Secretary of Labor shall jointly conduct a study that addresses— ‘‘(i) whether the employment of H–2A workers has depressed the wages of United States farm workers; ‘‘(ii) whether an adverse effect wage rate is necessary to protect the wages of United States farm workers in occupations in which H–2A workers are employed; ‘‘(iii) whether alternative wage standards would be sufficient to prevent wages in occupations in which H–2A workers are employed from falling below the wage level that would have prevailed in the absence of H–2A employment;
But the bill does not mandate a fix for the likely damage to wages and careers of Americans, even though it is sponsored by 20 GOP legislators and 24 Democrats.
That is bad news for agriculture regions of the United States, most of which have been falling behind as Democratic-run urban districts gain in wages and wealth. In December 2018, Breitbart News reported:
Elite zip codes added more business establishments during [President Barack] Obama’s economic recovery, between 2012 and 2016, than the entire bottom 80 percent of zip codes combined. For instance, while more than 180,000 businesses have been added to rich zip codes, the country’s bottom tier has lost more than 13,000 businesses even after the economic recovery.
Advocates for the bill say they negotiated the text with employers and with a labor union that wants to legalize roughly 500,000 illegal workers and also to import more migrants. The press release said:
“When I speak to farmers and ranchers across the country, labor is often their number one concern. Our nation’s agriculture industry is diverse and flourishing, but producers are in desperate need of a legal and reliable workforce,” said [Washington GOP] Rep. [Dan] Newhouse. “As a third-generation farmer, I understand the invaluable contributions made by farmworkers to American agriculture, and we must modernize our guestworker program to work for farmers, ranchers, and farmworkers in the 21st Century.”
“The success of our farmers, growers, and producers is essential not only for our economy but for our national security. For far too long, we’ve suffered from a broken H2A system—making it difficult for farmers to hire the workforce necessary to provide to the American people,” said [Florida GOP] Rep. Diaz-Balart.
“After months of negotiations, the UFW and UFW Foundation are enthusiastic about passing legislation that honors all farm workers who feed America by creating a way for undocumented workers to apply for legal status and a roadmap to earn citizenship in the future without compromising farm workers’ existing wages and legal protections,” said … Arturo S. Rodriguez, President Emeritus of United Farmworkers & Spokesperson of UFW Foundation.
The 20 GOP sponsors include several of the most business-friendly GOP leaders and several former GOP leaders in the House:
Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV-02); Rep. James Baird (R-IN- 04); Rep. Susan W. Brooks (R-IN-05); Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK-04); Rep. John Curtis (R-UT-03); Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL-13); Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL-25); Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH-07); Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA-01); Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA-05); Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-MI-10); Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA-04); Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA-22); Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY-23); Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID-02); Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY-21); Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH-15); Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI-06); Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR-02), and Rep. Don Young (R-AK- At Large).
In contrast, the population of roughly 500,000 American agriculture workers — including many ex-immigrants — are likely to gain if the amnesty bill crashes.
They will gain because agriculture companies will be pressured to raise their wages and to equip them with expensive, high-productivity, labor-saving machinery — just as non-farm workers are now gaining from company investment in technology. This automation trend is now accelerating as farms buy machines and companies develop new technologies to offset the farmers’ rising payroll costs.
For example, a tweet from the United Farm Workers union shows farmworkers in New York picking up cabbages and throwing them into a container at the front of a tractor:
— United Farm Workers (@UFWupdates) October 31, 2019
In contrast, Youtube provides multiple videos of farms using European-developed machines to accomplish the same task in much less time, For example, a farm in California’s Salinas Valley is using a Danish-built machine to accelerate the cabbage harvest:
In fact, on October 21, the Chamber touted the value of American-made, labor-saving machinery for African farmworkers:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with support from members such as Bayer, John Deere, and IBM, showcased the impact of technology on agriculture supply chains in Africa. To highlight developments with precision agriculture technology, representatives from John Deere discussed how their company is finding innovative ways to help farmers manage their equipment and crop data to improve profitability.
The relevance of emerging technologies cannot be emphasized enough when it comes to agriculture in 21st century Africa.
New technologies are changing the face of Africa’s agriculture value chains. For example, developments in seed technology, precision agriculture, and mobile financing apps are expanding opportunities for countless families and farmers across the 54 countries that make up Africa. Technology such as John Deere’s ExactApply solutions allows for better weed and pest control, promoting crop growth.
The chamber’s letter also said it also has concerns about the bill’s requirement that agriculture companies use the free E-Verify service to ensure the legality of job applicants: “The transition period for agricultural employers to utilize the E-Verify system should be extended in order for employers to better adjust to the new compliance burdens being foisted upon them.”
The E-verify rule was added to the bill to give a talking point for House legislators who face opposition to the amnesty.
But the E-verify rule makes little difference because it only covers hiring in the agriculture sector, not hiring by the urban restaurants, warehouses, and retail stores that employ most of the nation’s population of illegal aliens.