Farm Workforce Modernization Act could go to US Senate this week- what it could mean for workers and farmers in Yuma County

A bill making its way through the current lame duck session of Congress would mean big changes for ag workers and the growers who hire them, but local farmworker advocates aren’t overly excited.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act aims to address labor shortages the ag industry is facing in Yuma County and around the country.

The act would create a new, temporary immigration status of Certified Agricultural Worker allowing them to apply for legal residency status in exchange for their labor. Some program conditions also extend to family members.

It would also make changes to the US guest worker program known as H-2A. It expands worker safety protections and redefines the definition of year-round business to include dairy farms. It also sets a guaranteed wage and minimum working hours.

Emma Torres is executive director of Campesinos Sin Fronteras, which serves farmworkers and low-income Latino families, primarily in south Yuma County. Torres says the farm workforce bill is not something that is discussed locally but she sees some good in it.

“Some think it won’t benefit farmworkers because of some regulations,” Torres told KAWC. “Others think this will be the only way H-2A workers can earn legal residency. And some undocumented workers would be able to get legal residency.”

Torres says the Campesinos organization focuses on labor rights and health and wellness campaigns. She said they wait until legislation passes to provide the most accurate information to clients.

“What can happen is a lot of people take advantage of individuals,” she said “They commit fraud, offering access to some programs that aren’t available yet. So we try to avoid that. We wait until factual information is available and we share that with clients.”

Torres said there is a lot of misinformation going around so she’s cautious with what she passes on to the local farm workforce.

“We saw it with COVID- people sharing on Facebook and social media unreliable information,” she said. “It was another pandemic of misinformation. That caused damage to some of our people. Some refused to be vaccinated. So we make sure that the information we give out is reliable and trustworthy.”

The bill has passed the US House twice and could go to the US Senate this week.

According to the libertarian Cato Institute, the bill also addresses inflation. They say reforms would reduce labor costs, a driver of increased prices, by $1 billion in the first year.

Another portion of the bill would make the E-Verify system for hiring mandatory for all foreign ag workers.

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