WHEREAS, in order to ensure the future of its agriculture, which is a labor-intensive industry in a state where the minimum wage has risen by $2.00 per hour to $7.15 since April 2005, New Jersey must not only preserve its farmland, but also address the needs of its farm workforce; and in response to this issue, the Department has established a three-part approach to farm labor issues in New Jersey, which encompasses the following areas:
- Ensuring an adequate, qualified and legal workforce; and
- Advocating for decent, safe and sanitary housing; and
- Encouraging ongoing worker education programs; and
WHEREAS, all three areas are of equal importance and interwoven; and
WHEREAS, in 2007 the United States Congress passed and the President signed a law incrementally raising the federal (and therefore the State) minimum wage to $7.25 per hour by July 24, 2009; and
WHEREAS, the significant increase in the state’s minimum wage had put New Jersey agriculture at a competitive disadvantage with agriculture operators in other states and the law increasing the federal minimum wage through 2009 will greatly reduce New Jersey’s competitive disadvantage; and
WHEREAS, many agricultural operators incur tangible out-of-pocket expenses by providing workers with additional compensation, including but not limited to housing, meals, transportation and other items; and
WHEREAS, many workers on farms are guest workers; and
WHEREAS, ensuring the availability of an adequate, legal farm labor workforce must be addressed on the federal level; and the federal government must create a counterfeit-resistant identification system, establish an earned adjustment of status program, and reform the current practices for obtaining temporary agricultural worker visas; and
WHEREAS, all farm laborers have the right to live and work in a safe environment and earn a fair wage, yet we cannot support legislation that would result in New Jersey farmers suffering a competitive disadvantage with neighboring states; and
WHEREAS, workers have the right to decent, safe and sanitary housing; and
WHEREAS, zoning restrictions and restrictions on farmland in certain areas of the state have significantly reduced the availability of on-farm labor housing by restricting or prohibiting the agricultural landowner from constructing such housing on-farm; and
WHEREAS, satisfaction of worker housing needs may be possible through the
use of a voucher system; and
WHEREAS, as a result of the lack of available on-farm labor housing, many agricultural workers are forced to live in apartments and other housing miles away from the agricultural operations employing them, and many such workers lack vehicles and other modes of personal transportation to and from their job sites; and
WHEREAS, because public transportation is severely lacking in many, if not all of the rural neighborhoods where agricultural operations are located, agricultural workers also cannot rely on public transportation to reach their job sites; and
WHEREAS, although many agricultural operations have provided private bus transportation for agricultural workers who do not live in on-farm labor housing and who otherwise lack transportation, issues have arisen pertaining to omnibus licensing requirements that threaten the continued availability of this mode of transportation for agricultural laborers; and
WHEREAS, the Department has continued to urge the Motor Vehicle Commission to address the passenger transportation issues and is encouraged that, in the short term, MVC is redirecting the farm labor transport and other types of passenger transport through a better tailored omnibus process - dubbed Omnibus II - and an Omnibus 2 Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity Pilot Project was initiated this past spring; and
WHEREAS, Congress has failed to address immigration reform and more than half of the 33,000 H-2B visas approved in the first half of Fiscal 2009 had been claimed by November 2008; and
WHEREAS, labor supply and training are key for sustaining and growing the agricultural industry in New Jersey; as such, programs that support worker training, health and safety, and address issues such as housing, are and will continue to be part of the Department’s outreach and education efforts.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that we, the delegates to the 94th State Agricultural Convention, assembled in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, on February 11, 2009, support the efforts of the Department to ensure a stable source of well-trained and legal farm workers, and that we support efforts to ensure the proper training and education of the farm work force, especially as it relates to worker health and safety.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we support the immediate adoption and implementation of federal legislation which reforms the policies and procedures for temporary agricultural worker visas, creates counterfeit-resistant identification and establishes an earned adjustment of status program, to ensure the availability and supply of farm labor, both seasonal and year-round.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge the Department, New Jersey Farm Bureau and New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station to work cooperatively with the Governor and the Legislature to develop an agricultural assistance program to offset the economic impact of increases in farm labor costs. Absent such assistance, New Jersey farmers will suffer a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace, severely impacting farm viability. Any such program must include components that directly address the additional labor costs to farmers that result from the scheduled minimum wage increase and/or a credit for additional compensation such as housing, meals, transportation, etc. provided to employees beyond their wages.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we support the use of USDA Farm Labor Housing Programs to address the housing requirements needed to provide decent, safe and sanitary living conditions for the agricultural workforce.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge the Pinelands Commission to continue efforts to streamline the processes for the construction of on-farm labor housing, recognizing that some duplicative steps in the application process are imposed by the Federal National Parks and Recreation Act, but that a concerted effort of the Pinelands Commission to improve responses to applicants has reduced turnaround time to 30 days, in most cases; and that we identify to the Commission staff specific issues that arise in labor housing so that they may receive attention as appropriate to the issue. Likewise, we urge rural municipalities to review and amend their zoning ordinances to remove any impediments to the construction of on-farm labor housing on farms within the municipality. Finally, we urge the state Council On Affordable Housing (COAH) to allow municipalities to count non-seasonal farm labor housing towards COAH credits for municipalities to not only stimulate the provision of low- to moderate-income housing for agricultural workers, but to incentivize municipalities who may otherwise discourage the construction and provision of farm labor housing.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we request that the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) streamline the process for obtaining temporary visas for farm workers under the H2A certification process, and establish a streamlined guest worker certification process for agricultural workers that is separate from the H2A certification process. In addition, we urge Congress and USDOL to streamline the guest worker program and permanently lift the 66,000 per year cap on H2B workers.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we support the efforts of the Department to work with the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development and Rutgers University through the Agricultural Development Initiative to develop labor training programs that help increase farm productivity, literacy, fluency in English, worker health and safety, and labor’s overall contribution to industry productivity.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we support a more focused and better tailored public transportation initiative, and seek support for any legislative changes that could be needed to ensure that producer-provided transportation for agricultural workers can continue to exist, and we will continue to support the efforts of the MVC to resolve this critical agriculture labor issue.