December 22, 2009
Montpelier, Vt – The USDA Department of Labor is currently reviewing a rule concerning Temporary Agricultural Employment of H-2A workers in the United States. In response, Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Roger Allbee, in collaboration with his counterparts in numerous Northeastern states, has submitted written testimony to urge the Department of Labor to review the proposed regulations so that dairy farmers are not excluded from utilizing the benefits of the H-2A program. Senator Leahy has also strongly urged the Department of Labor to exercise its discretion under the special procedures provision to allow dairy farmers to be eligible for the H-2A program.
“Currently, the regulations as proposed, continue to unfairly exclude dairy farmers from the H-2a program, whose goal is to allow agricultural employers to fill domestic labor shortages with foreign workers,” said Secretary Allbee. “We know that these workers are of tremendous importance to the Vermont dairy industry which is critical to our economy, rural communities and working landscape.”
A study done by the Farm Credit Association of a number of Northeast states including New York and Maine showed that without foreign labor the dairy industry in the Northeast could face collapse. Even in a down economy, our states just don’t have the domestic labor force to meet the needs of dairy farmers.
“The recent U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) audits of five farms here in Vermont further underscore the need for comprehensive immigration reform. Dairy farmers desperately need employees, yet through the existing regulatory structure dedicated to agriculture, are unable to obtain workers,” said Allbee. “Due to the requirement by the Labor Department that requires H-2A jobs to be “temporary or seasonal,” dairy farmers are ineligible for these visas. This is especially disappointing because the H-2A program does include certain industries that require year-round labor including sheepherding, goat herding, cider pressing and logging. As it stands, unless the Department exercises its discretion under the “special procedures” provision, dairy farmers will continue to be ineligible for the program.”
In the commentary sent to the U.S. Department of Labor, the Northeast agriculture representatives stated: “In the Northeast, dairy farming is an integral part of our open, working landscape, economy, history and culture. We respectfully urge you in the strongest possible terms to include a provision for dairy farmers within the established procedures to address the well documented labor shortage that threatens the dairy industry in our states.”
States who signed the letter include: Vermont, New York, Delaware, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine. The letter can be viewed at: www.vermontagriculture.com.
Source: Agency of Agriculture
Last Updated at: December 22, 2009 08:30:34