Time to Look Into the TEA Leaves About Labor in 2017
Hard to believe that we have begun yet another year. Last year will be easy for most of you to let go as it was one of extreme drought and weak markets. As a result, each operation has to self- appraise and reduce all unwanted risks from your operation. With such conditions, we each need to sharpen our managerial skills.
In 2016, we each witnessed the election of a new President. A Republican now resides in the White House and he has a majority in the Congress as well. As Craig Regelbrugge says, “the only certainty is uncertainty.” President elect Trump has made a tightening of the Southern border a top priority. Whether his wall will be in the form of bricks or increased security only time will tell. What we can expect is that traffic of undocumented north will be slowed if not stopped. This may lead us to be faced with an E-Verify national standard. This test is one that many feel more than 50% of the current agriculture workforce could not meet. All this moves to one conclusion, labor will be in short supply for our farms in 2017.
President Elect Trump has a slogan that he will “Make America Great Again.” We all hope he is successful. If he is able to inspire new industry, it will mean we will be in competition with non-agriculture enterprises for this already tight labor supply. With fewer new workers and a national acceptance that our current farm staff is aging, labor will be hard to find.
The H2A program, while not new, has seen tremendous new interest in 2016. Florida is today the number one State to use this program. Not very long ago Washington State had very few employers using this program. Today Washington is in the top 5 in States to use this program. Michigan has moved in the last 2 years in a similar pattern. Nationally we saw 165,000 workers registered. This was a 16% increase. Chicago had 8,684 applications to process. Already a burden larger than the current staff can handle in a timely fashion. Congress is not moving to improve this capacity as we sit awaiting the largest new wave of applications to date.
If labor is a key component on your farm, I think you must look realistically at the climate here in New York State. Our minimum wage will increase by $.70. In real dollars to you when you factor in the related other charges it comes to almost exactly a $1 increase to you per hour. There is no such thing as cheap labor.
Second, if the NYS legislature should pass an overtime provision I fear it would virtually close the door on any migratory workers from coming to New York. History has proven that these workers will not stay if offered only 40 and many if limited to 60 hours per week. Michigan and Pennsylvania will be the beneficiary of our legislator’s poor decision.
So, here is where we sit. Florida can keep most of its labor busy for up to 10 months. If there is any need to migrate north Georgia and South Carolina will embrace all of this. The northern migration as we have known it is virtually over. If an employer in New York State is to attract workers, he will have to first take the time to recruit and then offer transportation, improved housing and a competitive wage package. This limited labor pool has many options. The roads in New York will not be filled with new faces looking to work on your farms.
Each of you needs to assess your own operations. Can you pass E-Verify? Can you compete with your neighbor to hire sufficient qualified help? Do you have housing that will be attractive to this work force? Are you willing to take a fresh look at labor? For most of you, it will be easier to find a new tractor than to replace a key employee.
Agriculture Affiliates will be hosting a one-day conference in Syracuse, NY on January 30, 2017 at the Doubletree Hotel off of Carrier Circle. The day will be divided into two parts. In the morning we will have Craig Regelbrugge lead us off and give his read of the “tea leaves” as a result of the election. If you have never heard Craig, you should plan to attend simply for his presentation. Next, we will have a three member panel that will give their experiences in the past and looking ahead on how they will staff their labor needs. We will have vegetable, dairy and fruit represented here. Next, Kam Quarles from Will and Emery law Firm in Washington, DC will reveal what he sees as the demand on labor across the country.
We will break for lunch and begin the second half of the agenda. In the afternoon, we will have speakers from NYSDOL and NYS Department of Health who will address how you need to begin to prepare to apply for H2A employees. This will be in effect a H2A 101 type hour. Joe Hobbs will then try to explain the role of an agent in his seminar on “Role and selection of an H2a Agent.”
Then we will have Ann Margarete Pointer give a few comments on how to be in compliance during this entire process. She will also be front and center to answer your questions on such questions as to your rights and responsibilities as an employer. She is considered one of the top, if not the top, farm labor lawyers in the country.
The day will end with a half-hour of general questions from the floor to all of our presenters. I think this is one day you need to mark down and make certain you are present.
You do not need to be a member of Agriculture Affiliates or NYS Horticultural Society to attend this conference.
For more information, please see information on this website.