Save the Date for the 2019 Becker Forum on Farm Labor

Farm worker housing, labor law compliance, and the federal guest worker program (H-2A) are key themes for the 2019 Becker Forum. The event will take place on Monday, January 14 at the Holiday Inn in Liverpool, New York. Employer compliance with new sexual harassment prevention laws will also be a prominent topic.

Featured speaker Lynn Jacquez, from the CJ Lake law firm in Washington, DC will address what policy positions to expect from the new Congress and the Administration in the year ahead. She will also address immigration enforcement trends and worksite issues that are important for farm employers.

Three presentations will focus on farm-provided employee housing. Nancy Hagopian from the NYS Department of Health will provide recommendations for improving existing housing. Ed Urbanick from Farm Credit East will discuss financing for construction and renovation of housing. A featured farm employer panel will discuss best practices for managing worker housing.

The forum will also provide information related to the H-2A guest worker program, including how some dairy farms successfully using it to access workers. Current changes in the H-2A program will be reviewed and information will be provided on how to effectively hire foreign-born workers through the program.

Attorney Michael Sciotti from the Barclay Damon Law Firm in Syracuse will inform farm employers about what they must do to comply with New York’s new regulations on sexual harassment prevention policies and training.

At the end of the afternoon there will be an opportunity for questions and discussion regarding critical workforce issues.  For a complete agenda and to register go to http://nysvga.org/expo/information/, or email nysvegetablegrowers@gmail.com.

 

What is at Stake in the next Year in Albany?

No one has a lock on tomorrow. We each can offer our most sincere educated estimate about the future. We must try to stay within our known borders and then project what could possibly happen. With total 100% certainty the political climate in Albany in 2019 will be changed. We know for certain that all three chambers now rest comfortably within one party. This makes passage of party programs significantly easier to obtain. Based upon the history of the last decade, it is safe to assume new legislation will be offered up that will significantly impact our industry. The question yet to be decided will be whether we can withstand these revolutionary changes?

The most obvious issue that will be facing NYS agriculture will it be mandated, like all other segments of labor, to pay employees on a 40-hour work week and pay time and a half? Collective bargaining is also of concern. For today let us simply look at time and a half on a commercial fruit farm. To do this we will make a few assumptions. We will assume that for this farm to maintain a credible work force that they are in the H2A program. Last year the adverse effect wage rate was $12.83.  We do not know the new one but it most likely will be in the range of $13 plus.  For today I will use last year’s rate. For my calculations I am going to say harvest was 10 weeks. I am going

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

to say the farm employed 50 workers. The average work week in harvest was 60 hours. In 2018 then that farm had a weekly hourly outlay just for harvest wages of $38,490. (60 hours X $12.83= $769.80 per employee. Now X 50 employees = $38,490 per week). This, of course, does not consider State unemployment and workers comp related costs. If we now do the same exercise at time and a half for this same farm, we see his direct costs rise to $2 shy of $900 per man per week. So, his new payroll will be up (40 hours X $12.83= $513.20 plus 20 hours at $19.25= $385). So, the new weekly pay check will be then $898.20. Same crew and not one extra bushel harvested. This farm will then have a weekly payroll of harvest employees alone of $44,910 plus other employment charges (50 employees X $898.20= $44.910).

For our simple example, Fruit Farm X has an increase of $6,420 per week ($44,910 – $38,490 = $6420). Now over 10 weeks we see an increase to harvest employees alone of $64,200. Same production.

The NYS minimum wage in 2019 is $11.10. This is $3.85 above the federal minimum wage. If you are in H2A you are paying $5.58 above the federal minimum wage. Farm wages are not by any means the lowest in the land. They greatly exceed the average small business sectors up and down main street. We need to make this point. Each farm employee creates multiple off farm jobs in NYS. Clearly NYS fruit farms cannot remain competitive if they must absorb these new estimated charges. A compromise must be reached, or we will see NYS forever altered. I remind everyone of the stark reality that once a farm operation closes its doors it never returns. Are we ready to see this radicle change in our State? Now is the time for everyone to get concerned. Currently, we have not seen the legislation we did our math homework on in this State. Today is not too late to begin a very serious debate.

I am asking each of you to rethink all the issues. As farmers, we are not immune to annual changes in weather, technology and markets. It comes as no surprise to anyone that labor availability is tied to higher wages. Agriculture in NYS is tied to a very high usage of labor. We are not an Iowa corn-based economy. As the new year arrives each of you need to educate yourself on all levels. Take advantage of educational programs such as the Becker Forum coming in January 2019. Reach out to your respective NYS legislators and have a discussion with them as to what is at stake. Support the efforts of your respective organizations that are presenting logical debates to many of these proposals.  If you fail to speak, I assure you this void will be filled by voices that have no real skin in the game. Action will occur. I encourage you to be a part of it.

 

Becker Forum 2018

The 2018 Becker Forum will take place on Monday, January 15, one day prior to the opening of the Empire State Producers Expo. The forum will focus on agricultural workforce issues with three general themes: securing a legal agricultural workforce, labor law compliance and H-2A program topics.

Featured speaker Kristi Boswell from USDA will provide an overview regarding her agency’s activities aimed at improving opportunities for agricultural employers to attract and hire a qualified and legal workforce.

Other speakers will provide a review of changes in both state and federal laws as well as key employment practices to ensure labor law compliance. Belen Ledezma, New York State Monitor Advocate (NYDOL) will review key labor regulations and provide necessary posters for the farm workplace. In addition, Ann Margaret Pointer, attorney with Fisher Phillips, will review key components of federal labor laws that apply to farm employers with a focus on federal DOL inspections and housing.

The afternoon program will focus on information related to the H-2A Program. Current changes in the H-2A program will be highlighted. Since each year H-2A participation in New York increases, a panel of growers with experience using H-2A will guide forum participants through procedures that they used to effectively hire foreign-born H-2A workers.

A roundtable discussion with the speakers at the end of the afternoon will provide an opportunity for questions and discussion regarding critical workforce issues.

Registration for the Becker Forum will be available on the NYS Vegetable Growers Association website accompanying the Empire State Producers Expo information.
The 2018 Becker Forum will take place on Monday, January 15, one day prior to the opening of the Empire State Producers Expo. The forum will focus on agricultural workforce issues with three general themes: securing a legal agricultural workforce, labor law compliance and H-2A program topics.

Featured speaker Kristi Boswell from USDA will provide an overview regarding her agency’s activities aimed at improving opportunities for agricultural employers to attract and hire a qualified and legal workforce.

Other speakers will provide a review of changes in both state and federal laws as well as key employment practices to ensure labor law compliance. Belen Ledezma, New York State Monitor Advocate (NYDOL) will review key labor regulations and provide necessary posters for the farm workplace. In addition, Ann Margaret Pointer, attorney with Fisher Phillips, will review key components of federal labor laws that apply to farm employers with a focus on federal DOL inspections and housing.

The afternoon program will focus on information related to the H-2A Program. Current changes in the H-2A program will be highlighted. Since each year H-2A participation in New York increases, a panel of growers with experience using H-2A will guide forum participants through procedures that they used to effectively hire foreign-born H-2A workers.

A roundtable discussion with the speakers at the end of the afternoon will provide an opportunity for questions and discussion regarding critical workforce issues.

Registration for the Becker Forum will be available on the NYS Vegetable Growers Association website accompanying the Empire State Producers Expo information.

The 2018 Becker Forum will take place on Monday, January 15, one day prior to the opening of the Empire State Producers Expo. The forum will focus on agricultural workforce issues with three general themes: securing a legal agricultural workforce, labor law compliance and H-2A program topics.

Featured speaker Kristi Boswell from USDA will provide an overview regarding her agency’s activities aimed at improving opportunities for agricultural employers to attract and hire a qualified and legal workforce.

Other speakers will provide a review of changes in both state and federal laws as well as key employment practices to ensure labor law compliance. Belen Ledezma, New York State Monitor Advocate (NYDOL) will review key labor regulations and provide necessary posters for the farm workplace. In addition, Ann Margaret Pointer, attorney with Fisher Phillips, will review key components of federal labor laws that apply to farm employers with a focus on federal DOL inspections and housing.

The afternoon program will focus on information related to the H-2A Program. Current changes in the H-2A program will be highlighted. Since each year H-2A participation in New York increases, a panel of growers with experience using H-2A will guide forum participants through procedures that they used to effectively hire foreign-born H-2A workers.

A roundtable discussion with the speakers at the end of the afternoon will provide an opportunity for questions and discussion regarding critical workforce issues.

Registration for the Becker Forum will be available on the NYS Vegetable Growers Association website accompanying the Empire State Producers Expo information.

Here is the agenda for the Forum:

Farm Employment Practices:  Planning for the Future

Syracuse, NY

 Agenda

 8:30 a.m.        Registration

 9:00 a.m.        Welcome and Introduction

                         Industry involvement in State level labor issues

Rick Zimmerman, New York State Vegetable Growers

9:20 a.m.         Review of key labor regulations and regulatory changes

Belén Ledezma, New York State Monitor Advocate, NYDOL

10:00 a.m.      Break

10:15 a.m.       How will USDA be involved in agricultural labor policy?

Kristi Boswell, Special Assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture

 10:55 a.m.       Federal Labor Regulations including new programs, overview of forms, regulations and posting requirements – Ann Margaret Pointer, Attorney and Partner, Atlanta office of Fisher Phillips

11:45               Lunch

12:45 p.m.      Guidelines for making housing work and including H-2A Program requirements

1:25 p.m.        How other regions of the United States are using the H-2A Program – Kameron and Mark Martens Agri-Placements, Fairview, Oklahoma

2:05 p.m.        Review of the H-2A process – Kristi Boswell and Belén Ledezma

2:45 p.m.        Break

 3:00 p.m.        Producer panel:  Current status of H-2A and a few basics

Moderator: Paul Baker

Speakers:

Alison DeMarree – DeMarree Fruit Farms, Williamson, NY

Dan Henry – W.D. Henry and Son, Inc.

Kathleen Walker – Lakeview Orchards, Burt, NY

3:50 p.m.        Speaker Roundtable – Questions and answers with all of the speakers

4:30 p.m.        Adjourn

 

Annual Message

I have heard often that what happens in California is a good indication of which direction the country is heading. That may be true many times but for those of us here in New York State I think we may have a second read on this concept. Today California is deeply troubled by the reality that for farms to field a legal workforce they need to move heavily to the H2A program. This means that they must now become concerned with housing on a scale that frankly they are not prepared to cope with. No longer can they hire an employee and tell them to report to work the next day. Now they must provide approved housing for each new hire. Labor shortages are increasing in the West each day due to the requirements of compliance to H2A. I say welcome to our reality!

Here in New York we are seeing a sharp increase in the usage of the H2A program. The reality is that the labor pool that may migrate north is depleted and no longer able to fill our needs. To insure a labor supply adequate to meet your needs means you must make use of the H2A program. It may be cumbersome but it is workable if one follows the steps provided. Farm size has little to do with who is using this program. I know of several farms that are asking for only 2 employees. The point is, if you have a labor need no one is exempt.

Dairy continues to be the industry most at risk. We have seen countless attempts in Washington to get some relief for this industry. To date the seasonality clause remains the heavy lift. Many in dairy have expressed a strong desire to be allowed to participate in the H2A program. Some form of this may occur but thus far it remains a roadblock. The current H2C efforts if passed would offer some paths to relief. I see too many issues with this piece of legislation to ever make it to the finish line. The fact that we are still attempting to draft a good piece of legislation is the one bright take away from this H2C effort. If Dairy ever does get acceptance into the H2A program I think many will find themselves in the same position as California. Housing may be a huge barrier for this group to overcome.

Agriculture Affiliates/NYS Horticulture Society has agreed to participate in the 2018 Becker Forum. I have enclosed an agenda in this mailing for your review.  I would strongly encourage each farm to have some representation in Syracuse on January 15, 2018. We will have a one day review of many of the questions we will be facing both in Albany and DC in 2018. Second, we will have speakers from the State and Federal government to report on the most current news. We are offering a panel of three farms that have made the transition successfully to H2A. They will be a resource for all of you to hear what their observations of this process have been. As always we will allow a Q and A for you at the end to express your opinions. Please attend and consider sponsoring this program.

It may appear that we are fighting an uphill battle with regards to labor. I can understand this. I would

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

offer that we are making progress. Both in State and Nationally I see a broadening acceptance that Agriculture is very important to our economic security. Food security is a factor. From East to West we are seeing a centering of issues that I feel will only help to push sound guest worker legislation forward. New York State has been and will continue to be a leader in this growth. It is the participation of many of you that has kept our needs and issues current. We will with your participation and support continue to articulate your needs. I cannot state it more clearly that failure to be present when these issues are discussed is to surrender to concepts we know will offer only failure to our operations.

Thank you for your support;

 

Adverse Effect Wage Rates

State                              2017                              2018                                        %Change

New York                      $12.38                            $12.83                                     3.63%

Arizona                          $10.95                            $10.46                                     -4.47%

California                       $12.57                            $13.18                                     4.85%

Florida                           $11.12                            $11.29                                     1.53%

Georgia                          $10.62                            $10.95                                     3.11%

Hawaii                           $13.14                            $14.37                                     9.36%

Michigan                        $12.75                            $13.06                                     2.43%

New Hampshire              $12.38                            $12.83                                     3.63%

North Carolina               $11.27                            $11.46                                     1.69%

New Jersey                     $12.19                            $12.05                                     -1.15%

Ohio                               $13.01                            $12.93                                     -0.61%

Oregon                           $13.38                            $14.12                                     5.53%

Pennsylvania                  $12.19                            $12.05                                      -1.15%

Texas                             $11.00                            $11.87                                     2.42%

Vermont                         $12.38                            $12.83                                     3.63%

Virginia                          $11.27                            $11.46                                     1.69%

Washington                    $13.38                            $14.12                                     5.53%