Jul 10, 2023
Ag Labor Review: What if your workforce disappears overnight?

In mid-May, the Florida legislature passed a bill mandating electronic verification of all workers for employers with 25 employees or more through the federal E-Verify system. Legal experts have indicated the law would apply only to new hires. Employers would have to process the verification within three days or face fines of up to $1,000 per day. It is anticipated that many Florida enterprises outside of agriculture such as construction, landscaping, yard work, hotels, restaurants and the service sector will also be significantly impacted by the new law.

The Florida bill also provides the governor with an additional $12 million to collect migrants, within and outside the state, and transport them to other locations in the U.S. The legislation, SB 1718, is to become effective
on July 1.

SB-1718-stampMedia reports note that Florida farmworkers intend to abandon the Sunshine State in search of greater security in other parts of the country. Immigrant truck
drivers posted videos on social media that went viral, angrily noting that although the new law would not impact themselves or their families, they would stand in solidarity with unauthorized workers and not allow their trucks to travel to Florida in a setback to the state’s economy still trying to recover from last year’s hurricanes.

Economists pointed out that with Florida’s unemployment rate already standing at just 2.6%, one of the immediate impacts likely to be felt will be upward pressure on wages across a wide variety of occupations, including agriculture. Farmers quickly shared that consumers should expect to pay higher premiums for U.S. fruits and vegetables while witnessing a greater uptick in imports of those products, creating another drag on the American economy and spiking inflation.

Last year, NCAE examined data surrounding trends in the H-2A Temporary Ag Worker Program that allows employers, after advertising for and failing to receive adequate interest from domestic workers for these good-paying
positions, to seek certification of those positions as being available for foreign workers. It appeared that with rapid growth in usage of the program in the country’s No. 1 ag production state, California would soon eclipse Florida as the top destination for these temporary foreign workers.

If Florida continues to produce fresh fruit and vegetables for the market, the workers willing to do this work will have to come from somewhere. This legislation means those workers are less likely to come from Florida. This action in Florida highlights the consequences of Congress after Congress and administration after administration kicking the proverbial can of immigration reform down the road.

Constantly kicking the can means the issue never gets resolved. And for American agriculture, the consequences of that “can-kicking” are dire. NCAE does a lot of work with media, the Congress and the White House (whoever is in charge), letting them know that the businesses that are negatively impacted by inaction on this issue are family businesses. These are legacy family operations passed from one generation to the next, desirous of maintaining that family legacy of farming and ranching.

Activists have been committed to mischaracterizing this as simply “corporate
agribusiness” trying to squeeze out the little guy as if some faceless company is better at tilling, planting, nurturing, and ultimately harvesting a crop than the people who own, work and love the land. The people who love America. The people with “skin in the game.”

Consider contacting your members of Congress, secretaries of Agriculture, Labor and Homeland Security, as well as the White House, and let them know that your
business matters in this debate. Let them know that you and your family matter. Remind them that you vote. Stop kicking the can down the road!
What would you do if your entire workforce disappeared overnight?

— Michael Marsh, president and CEO of the National Council of Agricultural Employers


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