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Still Fighting For AgJOBS

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, June 13, 2007

We know of no more dedicated advocate of AgJOBS than Jim Allen, President of the the New York Apple Association. He has spoken out in favor of AgJOBS and contributed to the Pundit’s discussion of this issue here and here, and last month he led a delegation to DC to fight for the issue:



Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., meets with farmers and agricultural leaders from New York on the steps of the Capitol. Top Row (from left): Kaari Stannard (apple), Stacy Haga (apple) and Angela Bezon. Second row: Ben Russell (apple), Pete Russell (apple), Phil Smith (apple), Bob Gray and Bob Smith. Third row: Maureen Torrey-Marshall, Mark Nicholson (apple), Chuck Mead (apple), Sarah Nobel-Moag, Peter Barton (apple) and John Teeple (apple). Fourth row: Kathy Barrett, Brandon Mallory, Paul Baker, Sen. Clinton, Diane Eldred, Wendy Wilson (apple), Jim Allen, NYAA President.

NEW YORK APPLE GROWERS
LOBBY FOR IMMIGRATION REFORM
IN WASHINGTON

For months, New York’s apple growers have answered the call to support the industry’s fight for immigration reform to ensure workforce stability.

In May, more than a dozen New York farmers from various fields made a house call to Washington, D.C., to drive home the point.

A group of 18 farmers and agricultural professionals joined Paul Baker of Agricultural Affiliates and The New York Horticultural Society and New York Apple Association President, Jim Allen, for a mid-May, one-day “fly-in” to meet with members of the state’s congressional delegation.

In various smaller groups, the growers met with the offices of each Upstate congressperson, 11 downstate representatives and both New York senators, including a face-to-face meeting with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“The New York apple industry has fulfilled its responsibility financially to help support this cause, but you can’t just buy everything,” Allen said. “It takes people and faces and bodies to make this work. That’s what was so important to have 18 people from New York State — from apples to dairy.”

Baker organized the trip, a whirlwind outing that involved catching early flights to either Baltimore or D.C., taking a train to downtown Washington, participating in a full day of meetings on Capitol Hill and flying back to New York that night.

“It is more cost-effective for (growers) to be able to get in and out in one day,” Baker said in a telephone interview after the trip. “There is a lot going on horticulturally this time of year, and it’s very expensive to stay overnight in D.C.”

The hidden cost of the trip: taking a day away from the farm in the middle of spring. Baker said that sacrifice was not lost on the representatives and staffers who met with the industry representatives.

Now the President is pushing the U.S. Senate to revive the “Grand compromise” immigration bill that Majority Leader Harry Reid withdrew from the floor of the Senate.

There still is a chance for passage of the bill. The specific issue that led to the collapse was the unwillingness of Senator Reid to prolong debate — despite a personal plea by Senator Kennedy. If Republicans have an opportunity to amend the bill, just the fact that they get to bring amendments they like to the floor might satisfy many of the Senators, and if they feel they get some passed and improve the bill, so much the better.

It won’t be easy though. You can watch a video here featuring Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama explaining that he thinks the bill has fundamental flaws. And noticeably absent from all the news coverage is Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Even if the bill gets through the Senate, its prospects in the House are questionable.

The problem may be that the immigration compromise is so big and involves so many issues that it provides all sides with something to hate about the bill.

As an industry we may need to be prepared with a “Plan B” that focuses on the discrete needs of the produce industry for short term harvesting labor.

This need is acute enough to be recognized by all, and because of its seasonal nature allows for “in and out” laborers that even immigration opponents could probably live with. If we don’t confuse the issue by also trying to reduce labor costs, we might be able to get a discrete bill passed if the “grand compromise” is deemed dead.

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