The Packer’s National Editor Tom Karst chatted on Feb. 23 with Stan Eury, executive director of the Vass-based North Carolina Growers Association.

9:15 a.m. Tom Karst: I wanted to ask you about the new H-2A rule. First of all, tell me about your organization in North Carolina. What does your group do for your members?

Q&A | Stan Eury, North Carolina Growers Association

Eury

9:20 a.m. Stan Eury: NCGA is a nonprofit grower co-op organized for the sole purpose of assisting our members with participation in the H-2A program in a joint employer format.

9:32 a.m. Tom: And now to ask you about the changes to the H-2A program by the Obama administration. I know there is a lot involved with that rule, but can you summarize what it might mean for employers participating in the program? What are your chief concerns?

9:42 a.m. Stan: In summary, the Solis (Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis) final rule takes the things we liked about the Bush regulation and rolls it back to the 1987 regulation or makes it worse. The Solis rule takes the things we didn’t like about the Bush regulation and retains them or makes it worse.

In North Carolina, wages will go up on average of $1.75 per hour and increases other program costs substantially, increases the penalty structure and lowers the standards for program debarment and certification revocation. It is widely believed by H-2A program users that President Obama and Secretary Solis are sending a clear signal that they prefer farmers break the law and employ illegal workers.

Furthermore, we believe that the Solis rule is part of an overarching strategy by the Obama administration to remove the only safety valve to for agricultural employers to hire legal guest workers and force H-2A users into supporting an amnesty program in the future.

9:53 a.m. Tom: What do you think the solution looks like for the problem of the lack of legal farm workers and the cost of the H-2A program? Is AgJobs the answer, or something else?

10:11 a.m. Stan: AgJobs is not the answer in its current form. The overwhelming majority of H-2A users are opposed to the AgJobs bill because it does not fix the H-2A program. The H-2A reforms in Title 2 of AgJobs needs a permanent and reasonable wage fix, legal protections for growers from expensive and frivolous litigation, and legitimate fixes to streamline the bureaucratic process at three federal government agencies so growers can get legal workers when and where they need them at a reasonable cost.

Rarely does the government come as close to finding the proper balance to such a complex issue as guest workers as did the Bush rules for H-2A. The Bush administration found the proper balance between protection for workers and a program that agricultural employers can actually use. We do need a legislative fix and our industry has only one chance to get it right.

Whatever passes, agriculture will have to live with for the next 30 years. If we don’t get it right this time, labor-intensive farms will be decimated before we have another legislative opportunity. Farmers remember the 1987 fix (amnesty and so called H-2A reform) didn’t work. For the sake of food security and our nation, we must get it right this time.