Dec 14, 2011
05:09 PMOut of the Orchard
Greetings from the East
As the harvest season finally ends, already growers are thinking to about next year and worrying about the labor problem. Fresh off a season rocked by labor issues, planning ahead is probably a good move. It is not often that I can use the term ‘positive actions by DOL”, but I do have a couple to report on.
I want to go back in time a bit, back to the early summer, when a number of NY apple growers and agricultural employers took the time to visit the halls of Congress to talk about labor, again! Since the only legal program is H2A, obviously that was the main topic. As a result of some of those meetings, today the DOL released the Employer Handbook for employers anticipating filing an H-2A application for next season. The hand book can be found at this web address: http://www.foreignlaborcert.doleta.gov/pdf/H-2A_Employer_Handbook.pdf
The handbook was created in response to feedback and questions the DOL has received in recent years and addresses many frequently asked questions. A meeting hosted by Congresswomen Louise Slaughter, NY 28, in July with northeast growers, DOL and other members of Congress contributed to the department’s efforts to answer common questions growers have about the H2A worker program. One of the results of that meeting was the publication of the handbook.
I write about this today for a couple of reasons. First of all to have a DOL handbook in December, to help guide you through your labor applications for next season is unheard of, at least in this neck of the woods. On the risk of sounding critical, communications between DOL and agricultural employers has not always been a strong point, unless it is for rejections, or requests for more evidence on applications. So this handbook is a good first step in the right direction.
My second reason for writing about this is one that I often try to make, and that is the constant need to be involved and to reach out to Congress and get them involved. Here is a great example of a number of upstate NY Congressional Leaders, from both sides of the aisle working together to get DOL to listen and to respond to the problems. Because of Congresswomen Slaughters, (Ranking Leader of the Rules Committee), persistence and diligence, she was able have DOL Deputy Secretary Harris attend and listen to the growers. Congressman Bill Owens, newly elected Congresswomen Cathy Hochul, and staff members from the upstate caucus all participated.
And finally, to put a bit of icing on the cake, recently NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who sits on the Senate Ag Committee, requested and was granted a Government Accounting Office (GAO) investigation into the current application process for H2A labor. The preliminary objectives of this study are to examine; trends and times of application processing and appeals of adverse ruling; the extent of duplication if any, between certificates from State and Feds; and the actions taken by DOL to improve the application process. Over the last two weeks the GAO team has interviewed at least 20 H2A employers, in the fruit and vegetable industry.
This study , the handbook and the DOL meeting all are because of the efforts of Growers, Ag Groups such as US Apple, CAO, different State Hort Society’s and the list goes on, all knocking on doors and being heard!
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Prosperous New Year to all.