Farm Workforce Modernization Act

Food First | 12.11.2019

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Due to the precarious conditions that undocumented farmworkers find themselves in today, it is understandable that there is a great deal of advocacy for the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (FWMA), which would provide a path for legal immigration status for some undocumented farmworkers. However, while a path to legal immigration status for some farmworkers is a step in the right direction, it should not come at the expense of many other farmworkers and the immigrant community. By linking a path towards citizenship for some farmworkers with the rigorous expansion of the H-2A temporary visa program, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act may ultimately pose setbacks for the majority of agricultural workers while greatly benefiting large-scale growers.

Some key problems with the legislation highlighted by our grassroots allies:

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  • The path to legal status is extremely complicated, limited, and reserved for only a small fraction of undocumented farmworkers
  • The H-2A program is bad for agricultural workers. As discussed by Food First in the past, the H-2A visa system is notoriously exploitative. This bill not only expands this problematic program, but it does not contain any provisions protecting the right to strike or organize for H-2A workers. Additionally, this bill alters how the adverse effect wage rate (AEWR) is calculated, which could depress wages for H-2A farmworkers and therefore bring down wages for all farmworkers.
  • The provision that mandates all agricultural companies use the e-verify program could significantly harm undocumented workers, their communities in rural areas, and small family farms.
  • The bill mandates an onerous work requirement for farmworkers to achieve legal status, while also prohibiting newly documented farmworkers from accessing certain public benefits.

In December, the House of Representatives voted in favor of the legislation, sending the bill to the Senate. Farmworker and labor organizations such as Community to Community (C2C), Familias Unidas por la Justicia, El Comite de Apoyo a las Trabajadores Agrícolas (CATA), United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), and Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA) are among those who oppose this legislation. Please click on the links below to view these organizations’ statements about the Bill as well as other resources on the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.

Community to Community (C2C) Statement

El Comite de Apoyo a las Trabajadores Agricolas (CATA) statement

United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) letter to Congress

Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA) statement

A perspective from labor journalist David Bacon