The Farm Workforce Modernization Act passed last week by the House of Representatives would give dairy farmers much needed greater access to foreign labor. National Milk Producers Federation spokesperson Chris Galen says House passage of the bill provides momentum towards addressing dairy’s labor needs.
“Last week, the House of Representatives took a very important step towards giving dairy farmers and other ag employers, access to a workforce that they desperately need. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act was passed by a very strong vote, 247 to 174, and we had a good bipartisan roster of members of the House from all across the country supporting this. Now what we need to have happen is the Senate to take up the ball and make certain that the effort doesn’t die here, because of all the efforts that we’ve made to tell lawmakers about the importance of fixing our labor laws, particularly as it relates to foreign born guest workers, it would be a shame if this were the last step in the process here this year.”
Some Senate lawmakers have plans to introduce a companion bill.
“We’ve already heard that two members of the Senate, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Mike Crapo of Idaho, have said that they want to introduce a Senate version of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act in the spring and this is very good news because we need to have a Senate companion bill make some adjustments in the House version, changes that dairy and others would like to see made. But importantly, we need to build on the momentum coming out of the House vote last week. If we don’t get a bill through the Senate, then a lot of the work that we put into passing the bill through the House initially will be for naught. So, we definitely need to see a Senate version get approved by the Senate this year. We’re hoping then that a strong bipartisan vote in the Senate, going along with what happened last week in the House, ultimately results in President Biden having the opportunity to sign the bill.”
Galen says the Farm Workforce Modernization Act is part of a broader effort to reform U.S. immigration laws.
“The other thing that the House did last week was passed legislation, giving the dreamers, those individuals who came to the U.S. illegally when they were children an opportunity to have legal status. And so that also was something that was viewed strongly on a bipartisan basis along with the ag labor component. And once you get past those two things, it becomes a lot tougher to pass legislation that’s going to be satisfying the strong voices sort of on both ends of the spectrum of this immigration issue. So, that’s why we’re really gratified that lawmakers are starting with things that are the low hanging fruit as it were, the things that have the most support, including the DACA fix that I talked about, as well as the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.”
Galen adds dairy’s primary need is access to a year-round workforce, which is included in the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.
“The current H-2A visa program is meant to hire seasonal workers. Often it’s used by employers who have need for migrant workers who come in, seasonally to harvest produce, but that doesn’t really work for the dairy sector because our labor needs are perennial and year-round. And so, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act would give dairy employers and others who have year-round labor needs access to the H-2A program. So, that’s why it’s very important that we have this legislation because right now at least some other sectors of agriculture have the H-2A visa program, but that doesn’t apply at all to the dairy sector.”
Learn more online at nmpf.org.