Critics: Proposal would harm small farms, drive up consumer prices

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(The Center Square) – North Carolina’s small farmers will be challenged, and may need to sell their land to larger corporations, congressmen say.

Attorneys general, nearly two dozen of them, also are against a proposed Department of Labor rule for farm workers in the H-2A program they say gives “unionization protections” and places “the interests of foreign nationals over the interests of United States citizens.” Julie Su, the interim secretary of the department, says empowering the workers and ensuring fair treatment are the goals of the initiative, the third in less than a year.

U.S. Rep. David Rouzer, R-N.C., is among dozens representing strong agriculture states in opposition. He signed a Nov. 14 letter to Su that read in part, “This proposed rule seems to be operating under the assumption that bad actors in the program are the rule and not the exception. Farmers rely on H-2A workers and often see the same workers come back each season. It is in no one’s best interest to unfairly treat their workers.”

Under the proposal, there would be new protections for worker self-advocacy; clarification for when a termination is “for cause”; make foreign labor recruitment more transparent; make wages more predictable; improve workers’ access to safe transportation, including seat belts; and enhance enforcement to improve program integrity.

In a release, Su says, “Farm workers are vital to our farmers, our food supply and our communities. This proposed rule would strengthen protections for H-2A farm workers who are particularly vulnerable to labor abuses, empower them to advocate for fair treatment and ensure that their employment does not depress labor standards and undercut domestic farm workers. The administration is committed to protecting all workers, and this proposal would significantly advance that effort.”

Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., led the congressional letter of 23 signatures, including House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Glenn Thompson, R-Pa. Kansas Republican Attorney General Kris Kobach led a Nov. 14 letter of 22 signatures addressed to the Employment and Training Administration and Wage and House Division within the Department of Labor.

The prosector’s letter reads in part, “Congress has already spoken on the issue. And it has excluded all farm workers from collective bargaining protections. There is no ambiguity in that.”

Kobach’s letter said the Department of Labor is attempting “to sidestep Congress,” which enacted the 1935 National Labor Relations Act. The result, as “most unions will freely admit” the letter says, will drive up the cost of doing business for employers and consumers will feel the hit as well.

“This type of decision must be left to Congress and not the Department,” the letter from the attorneys general reads.

Rouzer and congressional opponents say producers in their districts and throughout the nation are plagued by “the burdensome process of securing the needed H-2A workers to support our agriculture industry.” It notes the third round of regulation changes in a year, and says, “In a time when farmers are faced with increased input costs and inflation, these changes are regulating the family farm out of existence by eating away at an already shrinking profit margin.

“We continue to see good farmers audited repeatedly, and many small farmers are not equipped to deal with increased regulations that continue to change. The current stream of new rules is not sustainable and will lead to small farms having to sell out to large corporations that are better equipped to navigate this ever-changing environment.”

Rouzer was the only North Carolina signer. Others were from South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, Indiana, South Dakota, Washington and California.

Kobach’s letter had attorney general signatures from South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Indiana, South Dakota, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah and Virginia.

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