Seasonal and migrant farm workers play an integral part in the production and harvesting of Florida’s high value signature crops.
They are also a big topic of conversation and at the center of many economical and social issues.
Farm workers and their advocates claim:
- That workers are grossly underpaid.
- That workers are a cheap source of labor.
- That workers are exposed to harmful pesticides and working conditions that put them in grave physical danger.
Employers and their advocates disagree, claiming that there is nothing cheap about farm labor, especially when you’re factoring in both the impact of minimum wage on piece rates and the enormous costs of being in regulatory compliance with farm labor laws.
Despite these disagreements, workers and employers are both in agreement when it comes to Immigration Reform. Both sides agree that the development of a cost effective, workable temporary/guest worker program is paramount.
In Florida, there is a very high percentage of farm workers that aren’t legally documented. In fact, 70% of seasonal workers are not authorized to be in US, much less working in the US – a very serious concern.
Due to this, adequate/legal harvesting labor is becoming more and more difficult for Florida growers to find.
If growers don’t find the labor they need, food prices will continue to increase, food safety will be challenging to monitor, there will be no such thing as locally grown, and Americans will not be able to harvest their row crops.
The only solution is comprehensive Immigration Reform. This is needed to fix the legal status of current workers and also, to secure a legal flow of workers in the future.
So, what’s the outlook for Florida farm labor in 2014?
Uncertain. Unresolved. Unacceptable.
But here’s what is certain: The cost of farm labor will be higher as minimum wage rates go up and as the climate for enhanced regulations remains high. What’s more, employers must gear up for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obama Care”) and determine whether or not they need to provide their workers with health care insurance or not. Lastly, until the US Congress develops sound Immigration Reform, labor availability will remain questionable, especially for speciality crop growers.
All Florida growers can do is sit back, wait, and hope that Congress doesn’t stall reform too much longer. Here’s hoping!
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