Agricultural Legal Issues Abound; Labor is Again at the Forefront

By Tim Linden W hile there has always been a need for lawyers in the business of farming, it was clearly issues surrounding labor in the 1960s and ‘70s that led to rapid increase in the number of attorneys who practice in this sector. In fact, elsewhere in this issue, Attorney Mike Saqui reveals that he is very proud to have served the industry during a time that featured the “greatest generation of ag lawyers.” Many of these lawyers started at Western Growers and spent their early years defending employers in the on-going employer-employee conflicts. Early on, it was all about unionization and contract negotiation. In recent years, workplace regulations, especially surrounding wage and hours laws, have been the focal point of many law practices. Today, Western Growers Vice President and General Counsel Jason Resnick said securing a workforce has moved up the ladder as the top issue for many Western Growers members. “We are doing a lot of work in H-2A,” he said, referring to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) program that is designed for agricultural employers to bring a specific number of foreign workers into the country for a temporary and defined period. “We have had a significant increase in the number of applications that we have filed,” he said. “At any given time, we have dozens of applications in process” Resnick said the need is obvious as there is an acute labor shortage for farmworkers across the country. The Western Growers legal team has filed most of its applications for companies in

California, Arizona and Colorado. With increased experience, he said navigating the H-2A regulations has become easier but the rules are still burdensome and there are lots of hoops that employers need to jump through—not the least of which are the housing and transportation requirements. But Resnick is hopeful that proposed changes by DOL can modernize and streamline the process. He said one of the new proposed rule changes would allow employers to stagger the entry of

the applied for workforce. Currently, all workers must come into the country and start working on day one of the work period. Of course, unlike the manufacturing of widgets, agricultural production often ramps up over time with the need for more laborers as the season progresses. “The current regs are not flexible,” he said. “This change and some others would add some much needed flexibility.” While Resnick appreciates the current effort to tweak the H-2A regulations,

28   Western Grower & Shipper | www.wga.com   SEPTEMBER | OCTOBER 2019

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