Dan Bremer, president of AgWorks H2, LLC, recently spoke at the Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference in Savannah, Georgia, about the H-2A program. His presentation discussed labor options outside of the H-2A program, as well as what to expect from the H-2A program.
Bremer began the presentation by going over options that growers can consider when seeking labor. The options he offered included looking at internet resources, farm labor contractors, churches and jails.
After a grower has exhausted all other options, then H-2A should be considered. However, Bremer warned that it is not for everyone, and extreme caution should be taken when entering the H-2A program. “Don’t get into H-2A lightly,” he advised.
The H-2A program is a complicated one that is a “different way of life,” according to Bremer. The program is made up of a large number of rules and policies that must be followed. Bremer warned that growers need to make sure they are prepared to comply with all the rules before the first H-2A worker ever arrives. He stressed that there is really no room for error once the workers arrive. “You will be audited, so you have to have your stuff together,” Bremer said.
During his presentation, Bremer covered some important rules to remember when considering or going forward with the H-2A program. For example, the grower must give all local and domestic workers the opportunity to work for them. “That’s the greatest rule that you have to comply with,” he said.
Furthermore, making sure that transportation and housing plans are in place before workers arrive is critical. “They’re from a foreign country. They don’t bring their cars. They don’t bring their houses,” Bremer said.
Lastly, keeping track of the wage rate is crucial for growers participating in the H-2A program since it can change. For example, in Georgia, the minimum wage has gone from $7.25 per hour to $10.95 per hour.
Although the H-2A program supplies an adequate labor force, it is expensive and a lot of work for the grower. Now, many industry leaders are calling for the program to be reformed. A new program, H-2C, has been introduced in Washington, D.C.. Bremer said it is extremely important for growers to advocate for labor reform as well. “The growers can reach any state government official they would like, and they should go to everyone,” he concluded.
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