Rep. Newhouse works to improve farm labor picture

US Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, represents Washington's 4th Congressional District. (Photo: Courtesy US House of Representatives)
  • July 19, 2017

Representative Dan Newhouse is one of Washington family farmers’ greatest advocates in our nation’s capital. Here’s a report on his work in expanding available farm labor through the H2A program from MorningAgriculture from Politico.com. Note the labor opposition. The reason is simple – the severe labor shortage experienced by farmers is desired by labor unions to press for union contracts as happened at Sakuma. It was the family farm’s decision to use H2A to fill the labor shortage that triggered the organized labor opposition to this long-time family farm – not abuse of workers as they falsely claimed.

H-2A PROGRAM MAY BE EXPANDED THROUGH APPROPS: The House Appropriations Committee adopted on Tuesday an amendment to the fiscal 2018 homeland security spending bill, which could help dairy producers and other farmers who need year-round labor. The amendment, offered by Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), would expand the range of businesses that can apply for the H-2A visa program for temporary or seasonal agricultural workers, as well as nullify that stipulation that the work be short term. The measure was agreed to by voice vote with bipartisan support, including by Democratic Reps. Henry Cuellar (Texas) and Pete Aguilar (Calif.), who spoke in favor of the provision during the markup.
“This amendment is a small starting point of relief we can provide our farmers who need access to workers,” Newhouse said in a statement. Newhouse, a Republican from Eastern Washington who farms 600 acres of hops, tree fruit and grapes, emphasized that the measure did not change the limit on how long a worker can stay in the country (three years with renewals), nor would it change the fact that farmers must first seek U.S. workers.
Dairy groups pumped: National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern lauded the move on Tuesday. “This amendment recognizes that we need to create new approaches to addressing the needs of dairy employers for a legal, reliable supply of farm workers,” he said. “Dairy farmers, who have cows that need to be milked every single day of the year, have not been able to utilize the H-2A visa program because of how the Department of Labor interprets the rules, which restricts the program to supplying only the temporary and seasonal labor needs of employers.”
The Farm Bureau is still evaluating the specifics of the amendment, but a representative tells MA that the group is supportive because producers across the country are facing devastating labor shortages.
Could the provision survive a House vote on the bill? The odds seem decent at the moment. Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) said the House Judiciary Committee was “not opposed” to its inclusion.
Labor isn’t on board, however. United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez called the existing guest worker program “deeply flawed” and said he was “stunned” that two Democrats supported the measure. The nonprofit advocacy group Farmworker Justice also blasted the amendment, saying it did nothing to fix the H-2A program, which it described as “rife with abuses resulting from unscrupulous employers that take advantage of the vulnerable guest workers, displacing U.S. workers and undermining U.S. workers’ labor standards.”
The debate will continue today when the House Judiciary Committee’s Immigration Subcommittee holds a hearing on agricultural guest workers. Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) will testify, as will business owners and Giev Kashkooli, vice president of United Farm Workers.