By DAN WHEAT
United Farm Workers of America is agreeable to a new foreign guestworker program apart from the H-2A program but wants provisions of H-2A protected.
Specifically, UFW wants the adverse effect wage -- a minimum set by the U.S. Department of Labor -- and grower-paid transportation and housing of the H-2A program to continue under any new program or workers given the right to unionize, Arturo Rodriguez, president of United Farm Workers of America, told Capital Press.
"We know employers want a workforce they don't have to pay for and have no requirements to be met," he said, "and we're not happy with that."
The union also wants right of private action, giving workers the right to sue under all applicable laws not just their contract, Rodriguez said.
A confidential UFW immigration position paper, obtained by Capital Press, shows the union accepts the idea of a new, market-driven agricultural guestworker program instead of just amending H-2A. It would include portability, which allows workers to change jobs and not be bound to one employer by contract as is done in H-2A.
The six-page paper, dated Jan. 22, states: "This proposal is part of a comprehensive approach that would allow experienced undocumented farmworkers currently in the U.S. to adjust first to temporary legal status and then to permanent status similar to Title 1 of AgJOBS."
Title 1 of the 2007 AgJOBS bill, which failed in Congress, granted temporary legal status to farmworkers and a chance at citizenship after a set length of time.
Rodriguez said the paper is in response to what growers have put forth.
"We have been working with the agricultural industry the last 12 years to come to consensus and agreement to create a path to citizenship for farmworkers here and an orderly and fair way to bring in guestworkers or H-2A done through AgJOBS or some variation of that," Rodriguez said.
"This year employers, the growers, wanted to completely change the process. We are in discussions with them but are adamant that workers' rights are protected and that whatever is done doesn't undermine or take away jobs from people already here," he said.
The agricultural industry, through the new Agricultural Workforce Coalition, would take away the adverse effect wage rate and employers paying transportation and housing as done in H-2A, Rodriguez said.
"We're saying there's no way we will agree to that," he said. "It takes us back to the 1940s, to the Bracero program. It creates a second-class workforce."
Agreement between the UFW and agriculture needs to come quickly for something to happen this year, he said.
The UFW appreciates the work of the president and of the eight senators drafting the bipartisan Senate bill on immigration reform, he said.
The UFW "wishes a less stringent path to citizenship" than what is in the Senate bill but "if it comes out to that we will support it," he said.
The Senate bill does not address the adverse effect wage, transportation and housing, he said.
Some 70 to 80 percent of agricultural workers are undocumented and live in fear of government raids and deportation, he said. "That can't continue. It's not good for the workers, their families, the industry, consumers or America's economy," he said.
The UFW position paper states employers would be free to specify terms and conditions of employment consistent with state and federal laws, workers would be free to change jobs and all employment related laws and taxes would apply so there would be no reason for employers to prefer guestworkers over U.S. workers.
To apply, workers would go to U.S. consulates and show proof of an offer of employment or "evidence of union membership." Visa cards would enable workers to travel freely back and forth between the country of origin and the U.S. Visa holders would not be eligible for welfare and other social benefits.
Cards would be issued for three years and could be renewed indefinitely. Workers who complete six years on a visa and pass a basic English proficiency exam would be eligible for permanent resident status.
The number of visas issued would be limited.
"The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act would be amended to give migrant and seasonal farmworkers the right to form, join or assist labor organizations for the purpose of collective bargaining..." the paper states.