When the Farm Workforce Modernization Act was introduced in the House of Representatives in fall 2019, sponsors reported that the last time significant labor legislation had been passed in the House was 1986.
Simply said, labor policy is not an easy subject to tackle.
And though labor remains a relevant subject on the minds of many farmers, those stalemates may drag on in this new Congress. For one, that act, which garnered broad support from agricultural groups but lost steam when the pandemic arrived, would have to be reintroduced.
Further complicating things will be the Biden administration’s work to make substantial reforms to the nation’s immigration laws. As Cornell University’s Andy Novakovic put it on the January 20 Hoard’s Dairyman DairyLivestream, agricultural labor policy may easily get bogged down in the discussions around a pathway to citizenship.
Paul Bleiberg, who heads up government relations for the National Milk Producers Federation, agreed, particularly since immigration is such a back-and-forth topic in Washington.
“I think one of the challenges with immigration is the political imperatives on both sides of the aisle that make this issue very hard to get done,” he said. “One of the things I say is there’s sort of a pendulum and that it swings back and forth for either taking action and kind of solving an issue or not taking action and leaving it alive as a political issue. Unfortunately, on immigration, it seems very often that pendulum is on the side of not acting because . . . both parties see a lot of political benefit from not having the immigration issues at large, not specific to ag, but overall, get resolved.”
For any type of resolution to occur, Bleiberg reminded, “You are going to need a certain amount of compromise. I think it’s possible we have an opportunity here; obviously, Biden is sending up a bill to Congress for them to consider, and I think from there we will sort of see them put their stamp on that and make decisions about what they want to do moving forward. But there are a lot of complicated questions about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA); there are questions about how Republicans are going to want to engage on this issue in the wake of Trump and all the attention he brought to the issue.”
Still, this is an area that the House Agriculture committee recognizes as an important one. The House did pass the Farm Workforce Modernization Act when it was initially brought up, and many champions of that bill remain on the ag committee, Bleiberg said.
Novakovic concluded, “I think the road is a little rocky, but I think the car is on that road, and it’s going to proceed down it. We’ll have to see what the will of Congress is going to be, ultimately.”
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