Earlier today, Western Growers’ president and CEO Tom Nassif gave the luncheon keynote address at the Washington Farm Labor Association’s 10th Annual Labor Conference in Kennewick, Washington.
Nassif has a long history of involvement with California agricultural labor beginning with his work in the Imperial Valley as a labor lawyer on behalf of growers in the 1970s. His engagement in key labor negotiations, especially with the United Farm Workers (UFW) and its leader, Arturo Rodriguez, over the years, set the topics and tone for the speech. He spoke of his newest, and perhaps most challenging negotiations with labor organizations last spring when he and Rodriguez came to agreement over the ag portion of the U.S. Senate immigration reform bill, S.B. 744, which passed the Senate in June, 2013. The agreement was the last major component of the bill to be put in place prior to the bill’s introduction on the Senate floor.
Both California and Washington state share a common thread when it comes to labor issues and the need for immigration reform: they rank first and second in the country in the percentage of farm workers who may not be properly documented. According to a 2013 White House report, it is estimated that 73 percent of California’s farm worker population is falsely documented, while Washington’s is about 60 percent. While the state of Washington is one of most prolific users of the H-2A program visa in the country, less than five percent of its peak seasonal workers are hired under the H-2A program. This is evidence of the need for a more workable guest worker program along with the fact that the H-2A visa program has no cap and rarely exceeds 68,000 visas a year while agriculture employs well over a million workers.
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