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AgJOBS Gets ‘Pull’ From PMA
While United And Others Provide The Push

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, April 24, 2007

PMA has launched a substantial communications campaign to enlist the produce industry in the battle to pass the AgJOBS bill. In fact, part of the communications effort is the banner ad you see to the right of this article.

If you click on the logo, it will bring you to PMA’s Advocacy Action Center, which is filled with all kinds of resources for people to easily call or e-mail their elected officials.

The whole concept is interesting for the industry. PMA has long struggled with what precise role it should play in government relations for the produce trade. PMA has many members who are not members of United and, consistently, its survey work has indicated that these members look to PMA to handle their representation in D.C. for them.

Though PMA has long interacted with regulators and the media and participated in many coalitions to advance the interests of the trade, it is United that has done actual lobbying on the Hill.

Unlike Western Growers, which has decided to open a Washington office, even if there is a price to pay in industry unity and effectiveness, PMA didn’t want to be seen as stepping on United’s toes or duplicating industry efforts.

So what should PMA do to serve its members and remain relevant in government relations?

Some smart people came up with the idea of using PMA’s greater reach among the buying end of the industry to pull these segments along and turn them, de facto, into advocates for grower interests.

It is really a brilliant strategy. The argument being made to the buying end is this:

Empty Shelves
Empty Plates
How Long Can Your Profits Run On Empty?
Support AgJOBS to Keep Workers in the Fields And Produce on Consumers’ Plates Act Now!

Each year, more than $90 billion in fresh produce is sold to consumers through supermarket and foodservice outlets.

But without enough labor to grow, harvest, and pack fresh fruits and vegetables, there will be shortages that impact the entire supply chain, and your bottom line.

In other words, PMA is saying that although the production end of the industry may be the one directly impacted by a labor shortage, a shortage of product and a reduction in the number of workers (read it as shoppers) hurts the whole supply chain.

It is a good strategy, and by pulling the buy-side in makes our total industry advocacy efforts more effective and provides a great way for PMA to be relevant and do meaningful work.

It is well worth exploring the web site, and this tool can be used in the future on other industry issues, but whether it will be enough to pass AgJOBS is another question entirely.

We’ve dealt with AgJOBS and the broader questions on immigration reform several times, including letters from Jim Allen, President, NY Apple Association here and here and broader pieces here.

The problem is not really any massive opposition to AgJOBS. The problem is that such a narrow point — agriculture needs more workers — tends to be buried under a multiplicity of issues ranging from national security to questions about the cultural preconditions of democracy.

PMA’s communications effort is just one facet of the trade’s effort to pass AgJOBS. United Fresh is hosting, along with USApple and the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, an Immigration “Fly-In” May 16th in which agricultural organizations across the country will bring in members to lobby on the Hill for immigration reform. It is the third one this year, and anyone who wants to attend can register for free by downloading this form.

The big push is because the only hope of passing the bill is if the saliency of the ag worker shortage is raised in the minds of Senators and Representatives and members of their staffs.

It is not going to be easy and there are many in produce who want to see more focus on things like mechanical harvesting to reduce the need for farm labor. But if there is a shot to pass this bill it is now, before the next election race heats up.

United Fresh has been working on this for a long time and deserves some applause as does PMA for finding a way to further industry interests without duplicating the efforts of others.

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