Monday, July 13, 2009

Working The H-2A System

Labor issues are generally not anyone's favorite topic, but Willoway Nurseries' Tom Demaline and Emily Jalkanen and ANLA's Craig Regelbrugge offered attendees some great insight on the pros and cons of using H-2A as a resource.

"Do the pros outweigh the cons?" asks Demaline. "We've been using H-2A at Willoway for 12 years and it has contributed greatly to the quality of plant material produced and the company's growth.
Among the many advantages he identified were:

1. Seasonality - "A guest worker program is ideal for our line of work," Demaline says. "Domestic workers don't want to be laid off at the end of the season. H-2A workers do, so they can go home to their families."
2. Culture - Domestic workers typically don't have an ag background when they come to the job. The H-2A workers do, he says.
3. Desire - A higher percentage of domestic workers have little desire to do the hard work required in this job, he says.

Jalkanen, who handles the H-2A details for Willoway, told growers not to try to tackle the program by themselves, at least in the beginning. "First time users need an agent or attorney," she emphasized. "One small mistake can hold up workers for weeks."

ANLA's Regelbrugge said the changes in Washington have reforms to the H-2A program in flux right now, although the groundwork has been laid for improvements. That said, the bottom line is that AgJOBS and H-2B reform aren't likely to go anywhere without some type of comprehensive reform in our national labor policy first. And it's such a contentious subject, every person in the industry needs to not just call and write Washington, but also visit and tell your story in person. "When we visit congressmen or senators, they show us stacks of letters from people who disagree with us. That will take more than an email every six months," he says.

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