WHEREAS, from the planting and harvesting of grains, fruits and vegetables, to the daily care of plants and animals, agriculture is a labor-intensive industry; and while most farms in New Jersey are family owned and operated, many of them need to hire additional labor in order to operate successfully; and
WHEREAS, in order to ensure the future of its agriculture, New Jersey must not only preserve its farmland, but also address the needs of its farm workforce; and
WHEREAS, ensuring the availability of an adequate, legal farm labor workforce must be addressed on the federal level; and the federal government needs a counterfeit-resistant identification system, to establish an earned adjustment of status program, and reform the current practices for obtaining temporary agricultural worker visas; and
WHEREAS, Congress has thus far failed to address immigration reform in a comprehensive manner that would establish a clear path to legal status and provide for an adequate seasonal workforce to be relied upon by agriculture and related industries which cannot attract enough current U.S. citizens to fill their labor needs; and
WHEREAS, the 2008 Final Rule governing the process for H-2A visas, which allow foreign nationals into the United States for seasonal agricultural work, went into effect in January 2009 but was then proposed for suspension; and
WHEREAS, that proposed suspension was successfully challenged in court, resulting in the current reinstatement of the 2008 Final Rule pending a proposed new rule slated to take effect in June 2010; and
WHEREAS, labor supply and training are key for sustaining and growing the agricultural industry in New Jersey, and, 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 95th State Agricultural Convention, assembled in East Brunswick, New Jersey, on February 9, 2010, 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, and that we urge the New Jersey Congressional Delegation to help lead these efforts in both the House and Senate.
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.
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 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.
The Department has established a three-part approach to farm labor issues in New Jersey, which encompasses the following areas:
- Striving to ensure an adequate, qualified and legal workforce.
- Advocating for decent, safe and sanitary housing.
- Encouraging ongoing worker education programs.
All three areas are of equal importance and interwoven, and can be only partially solved by action at the state and local levels. It is encouraging to hear the current Congress commit to addressing comprehensive immigration reform in 2010.
The Department believes all farm laborers have the right to live and work in a safe environment and earn a fair wage, yet cannot support legislation or regulations that would result in New Jersey farmers suffering a competitive disadvantage with neighboring states. As it stands, zoning and other 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.
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. Adding to that difficulty, public transportation is severely lacking in many, if not all of the rural neighborhoods where agricultural operations are located.
The Department also encourages agricultural operators and related businesses to seek out employee education programs, especially those that can help bridge the language barriers between operators and seasonal workers from other countries. This helps not only in making the farm operation more efficient, but also in improving food safety, as signs and verbal directions regarding safe handling practices can be more easily understood.