Feb 13, 2024
Washington State group issues alert on H-2A bill

The Washington State Tree Fruit Association (WSTFA) has issued an action alert to members, asking them to write to state senators to express opposition to two bills, one of which would add numerous questions to annual ag labor surveys.

Washington State’s SB 5996 would add more questions on a survey that eventually sets nationwide wage rates for the H-2A temporary guest visa program.WSTFA-logo-featuredNew questions proposed in the bill are designed to compare current domestic and foreign workers and housing locations against the data in their approved contracts, according to the tree fruit association.

Doing so raises the cost of two current ag surveys by the state’s Employment Security Department, which cost about $250,000 each, according to the association.

One surveys employers to set mandatory prevailing wage rates for H-2A workers in Washington. The second agricultural wage survey is of farmworkers, and although it is as costly to conduct, its only purpose is informational data collection, according to WSTFA.

The bill would also set a minimum number of worker responses to be collected and provide an uncapped cash incentive to farmworkers answering the survey ensuring that the cost will increase by at least $48,750 per year.  Additionally, there would be mandatory data collection from all employers with H-2A contracts comparing current domestic and foreign workers and housing locations against the data in their approved contracts.

ESD is operating with a $21.2 million department deficit and would need an additional general fund appropriation in order to meet the requirements of this legislation.

SB 5996 is currently in the Senate Rules committee.

“We’re waiting to see if it will be brought to the Senate floor to be voted on,” according to a news release. “We encourage members to contact your senator and ask that they oppose SB 5996 should it come to the Senate floor for a vote.”

Another bill, State Senate Bill 6304, contains a provision that would direct the Washington Department of Ecology to create an anti-idling program, similar to one in California.

The program would prohibit trucks over 10,000 pounds from idling longer than five minutes, create penalties for violations, and authorize an indeterminant fee charged on all heavy-duty vehicles that would fall under the program.

Regulating idling and auxiliary power units on trucks to five minutes could jeopardize perishable produce like cherries and apples, according to the association. Lawmakers need to recognize the sensitivity and uniqueness of the agriculture industry when transporting, according to a news release.

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