(Aug. 31) Recalling his own immigrant roots, the first grower ever to address the biennial convention of the United Farm Workers urged continued grower and union cooperation in efforts to win U.S. Senate passage of AgJobs legislation this year.

Peter Orum, owner of Midwest Groundcovers nursery operation in St. Charles, Ill., and president of the American Nursery & Landscape Association, addressed the United Farm Workers convention Aug. 29 in Fresno, Calif.

A news release from the American Nursery and Landscape Association said the speech represented the first time in the UFW’s 42-year history that a grower was invited to speak to their convention.

He was invited to speak by UFW president Arturo Rodriguez. Orum and Rodriguez urged President Bush to push the Senate to pass the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act, or AgJobs bill in September.

On Aug. 31, Orum said he was received well by the UFW.

“Farmworkers have been a good partner in working on the bill, and that’s why I was there,” he said.

Growers and farmworkers are fighting for the future of American agriculture, Orum said.

AgJobs legislation is supported by nearly all agricultural commodity and employers associations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO and immigration rights groups.

The AgJobs labor/immigration reform legislation is at a critical juncture on Capitol Hill. Even with the backing of about 63 U.S. senators of both parties and 117 representatives in the U.S. House, its political future is thwarted by Republican leaders who worry its passage will anger anti-immigration conservatives.

Orum objected to the idea the bill offers amnesty to illegal aliens, noting it requires them to labor in agriculture for six years.

He said immigrants now work for his nursery operation, many for 15 years or more. He said employing hard-working Mexican and Latin American employees — with perhaps 70% or 80% without valid work papers —puts American farmers with “one leg on the way to jail and the other leg on the way to bankruptcy court.”