Farm Workforce Modernization Act Heard in House Judiciary Committee

On November 21, 2019, the House Judiciary Committee passed the “Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019” (FWMA), H.R. 5038, out of the Committee by a roll call vote of 18-12, with all Democrats present voting for the bill.  The vote followed debate on the bill that took place on November 20.

The FWMA is a bipartisan compromise reached as a result of months-long negotiations between worker representatives, including the UFW, Farmworker Justice and UFW Foundation, and agricultural employers. The bill currently has 26 Democratic co-sponsors and 23 Republican co-sponsors. Farmworker Justice supports the bill. You can read a summary of the bill’s provisions here.

The mark-up of the bill in the Judiciary Committee lasted approximately four hours. During the mark-up, two Democratic amendments were proposed to the bill. The first, which was adopted, was an amendment by Rep. Jackson-Lee (D-TX) allowing Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforcement Departure (DED) status holders to apply for Certified Agricultural Worker (CAW) status. Rep. Jayapal (D-WA) introduced a second amendment, which would ensure the eligibility of CAW individuals and their dependent family members for the ACA's plans, tax credits and cost-sharing reductions; however, in recognition that further education is needed in order to reach a consensus on this issue, Rep. Jayapal withdrew the amendment prior to a vote. Rep. Jayapal also read aloud several stories that Washington farmworkers shared with her during a visit to her office in support of the bill. Rep. Correa also welcomed the UFW and UFW Foundation farmworkers who traveled to DC to support the bill and were in the audience during the proceedings.

Republican members also offered amendments, all of which were voted down by large margins, with all Democratic committee members opposing the amendments. Rep. Lofgren and other Democratic members, such as Reps. Nadler and Raskin offered strong arguments against many of these amendments. The amendments focused on anti-worker and anti-immigrant issues such as lowering wages, undermining the legalization program, limiting workers’ access to legal remedies, and reducing other key protections for workers. Ranking Member Collins (R-GA) offered two amendments attacking key protections obtained for H-2A workers in the legislation: 1) the right to coverage under the principal federal employment law protecting farmworkers, the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (AWPA) and 2) creating a “right to cure” for employers after a complaint is filed.

Rep. Lesko (R-AZ), Rep. Chabot (R-OH), and Rep. Buck (R-CO) also offered amendments that would have limited the ability of farmworkers to participate in the legalization program and path to lawful permanent residency. In addition, Rep. Steube (R-FL) introduced a variety of amendments to provide additional anti-worker reforms to the H-2A program in the bill, such as lowering farmworker wages and having USDA administer the H-2A program rather than DOL. The compromise already included significant wage concessions from farmworkers.

Farmworker Justice appreciates the Judiciary Committee’s vote in favor of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 because the bill, if passed, would enable hundreds of thousands of farmworker families to improve their living and working conditions and their participation in our economy and democracy.