As the country has been watching the government shutdown and debt ceiling situation escalate into a crisis, Western Growers and our membership have been trying to react to fallout from the shutdown. As a result of the government shutdown the Department of Labor (DOL ) has furloughed some 80+% of its staff including the staff that processes all H-2A applications. Having access to H-2A workers is critical for growers in Yuma and Imperial as they gear up for the winter vegetable harvest. Roughly 90% of all our nation’s winter vegetables are grown in the desert and H-2A accounts for a significant percentage of the workforce in that region during that time of year.
Western Growers has been working extensively with legislators and their staffs, officials in the Obama administration, as well as a coalition of similarly affected associations and companies to deal with this situation. Last week, WG collaborated with the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association (FFVA) and the U.S. Apple Association to create a multi-state/multi-industry effort to address this issue. A letter was collectively submitted to DOL Secretary Perez requesting relief. WG staff communicated our concerns with the offices of Senator Dianne Feinstein, and Representatives Sam Farr and Jeff Denham, who are now leading Congressional efforts, and more members are joining on. WG also engaged USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s chief of staff to raise the issue with the White House.
WG and our allies are pursuing a two-pronged strategy. First, we are attempting to have DOL overturn their decision to furlough the staff tasked with processing H-2A applications. In addition, we are pushing a Plan ”B” for expedited review of applications and fast tracking the work to clear the backlog for processing applications that is likely to develop once the government reopens. Our goal is to get the agencies involved in the H-2A process to coordinate and bolster efforts to mitigate the delays anticipated to be caused by the shutdown.
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