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|Wednesday, June 12, 2013|
BY BARRY BUSHUE | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
Summer is close at hand, and thanks to farm families and their employees, we can soon enjoy the bounty of fresh, local items Oregonians cherish: succulent strawberries, marionberries, blueberries, apples and pears, and dozens of other seasonal treasures straight from the farm to your table. We’ll enjoy fine Oregon wine and the wonderful landscape plantings around our homes, businesses, and public spaces.
Our farm families raise about 250 different types of crops, making Oregon one of the most agriculturally diverse states in the nation. Many of these specialty crops, including fruits, wine grapes, and nursery products, are delicate and labor-intensive, requiring skilled, careful hand-harvesting within a very specific timeframe to get them from the farm to you. Our state is consistently in the top 10 nationally for reliance on on-farm employees to get this important work done, and done well.
On-farm jobs are demanding, require skill and precision, and can earn employees well above the state minimum wage. But even in a tough economy, most Americans simply aren’t interested in agricultural work, whatever the pay.
As we rely on employees from other countries to do this essential work, our broken system has devolved from a set of bureaucratic hurdles into a virtual barrier. Farm families do their best to hire employees with the correct documentation, but have their hands tied by limited information and resources, and legal jeopardy in verifying employable status. The federal government has increased border security and enforcement without improving processes for employees to obtain or document their status. The federal “E-verify” system is unreliable, subjecting employers to discrimination lawsuits and legally employable people to erroneous denial of jobs with its high error rate.
Beyond the headline-grabbing documentation issues, the current H-2a program is simply not designed for the diversified family-scale agriculture we have in Oregon. Of Oregon’s 40,000 farms, only six believe H-2a can work for them.
The importance of solving this challenge is not limited to the family farm. Agriculture is Oregon’s second-largest industry. Without a legal, skilled, and reliable workforce, Oregon’s economy and quality of life suffer. And if consumers like their food grown locally, something has to change.
Congress recognized many of these issues when it developed immigration reform legislation in the early part of this century. Sen. Ron Wyden and then-Sen. Gordon Smith were among the leaders who crafted bipartisan legislation to address our system’s shortcomings. The national state of shock after 9/11 put an end to that effort’s chances.
Today, we have the best chance in over a decade to enact improvements that will strengthen border security, clarify employable status, and provide the kind of process Oregon farm families need to legally employ the capable people they depend on.
Farm Bureau’s agricultural labor principles include:
Most of these principles survived the rigorous bipartisan process in the U.S. Senate, which culminated in S 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. This spring, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill, and as this article goes to print, debate on S 744 is scheduled to begin on the Senate floor.
Oregon Farm Bureau has worked with Oregon’s congressional delegation to discuss the need for a new visa program, as well as what key components it must include, to ensure it is viable, workable, sustainable, and affordable. With the thorough groundwork done by the Ag Workforce Coalition and the serious engagement of U.S. Senators from both parties, Farm Bureau is optimistic that we can achieve a reasonable, practical, common-sense solution that works for growers, respects employees, and meets the needs of both.
The need is immediate. The opportunity is here. The time is now.
Barry Bushue is president of the Oregon Farm Bureau. He runs a family nursery stock and berry operation near Boring, Oregon.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
14BY KIM MOORE
Proud, diverse and underpaid.
Pride in their organizations’ mission, fairness in the treatment of women and ethnic minorities, flexible work schedules — these are just a handful of workplace characteristics that employees of this year’s 100 Best Nonprofits appreciate about their organizations.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
BY JESSICA RIDGWAY
October's Launch article features Soul Kitchen, Easy Company and Slick's Big Time BBQ.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
BY KIM MOORE
A conversation about higher education with the presidents of the University of Oregon and Clackamas Community College, followed by September's powerlist.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
BY JONATHAN FROCHTZWAJG
A flare-up in the Elliott Forest raises questions about détente in Oregon’s timber wars.
Friday, October 17, 2014
BY TOM COX | OB BLOGGER
How can you move from a command-and-control leadership model to one of true empowerment and accountability? David Marquet did, and he took notes along the way.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
BY VIVIAN MCINERNY
Travis Knight wants to release a movie a year. Can he pull it off?
Monday, September 29, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR
Wehby disappears, Kitzhaber fails to disclose and Seattle gets bike share before Portland.
|The 100 Best Nonprofits to Work for in Oregon 2014|
|A Recipe for Success|
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Is your business ready to join us in the call for action? This opening panel includes Oregon businesses who will discuss why they signed the Oregon Climate Declaration, the investments they are making to reduce carbon emissions, and how their actions are affecting their companies.
Get ready for two days of special events produced with the EPA, Portland Timbers and ISOS before and after the GoGreen Conference on October 16.
Finding a health insurance plan that makes both financial sense for the bottom line and provides choice for plan participants is a huge challenge for employers.
The right financing at the right time is critical for small businesses to succeed.
Among Oregon universities, Oregon Tech is special in the way it incorporates applied research into the curricula of every department.
More than 400 "Change Makers" will gather to invest in a socially sustainable community.