Thursday, February 11, 2010

Senator Feinstein's Jobs Proposals

As Senator Feinstein releases her plan to amend the Senate Jobs bill to weaken the ESA and pump more water to Westlands farms in the name of job creation, I think it is a good idea to look at the last jobs bill she sponsored, only 9 months ago.

From May 2009 press release promoting the Feinstein sponsored AgJobs bill and a supporting webpage:

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today re-introduced legislation to provide much-needed relief to the nation’s ongoing agriculture labor shortage...“Today across the United States, there are not enough agricultural workers to pick, prune, pack or harvest our country’s crops. With an inadequate supply of workers, farmers from Maine to California, and from Washington State to Georgia, have watched their produce rot and their farms lay fallow over the years,” Senator Feinstein said...If the labor problems continue, California agriculture stands to lose between $1.7 – 3.1 billion in the next one to two years.
In the new jobs Bill amendment, she says we have a shortage of farm jobs, while in her last jobs bill she says we have a shortage of farm workers. Hmmm...

I am no immigration expert, but here are my current (subject to change) thoughts on Feinstein's AgJobs bill...

I agree to the need to create a path to legalization and citizenship for hardworking, law abiding undocumented workers, most of whom work non-farm jobs. Feinstein's bill makes 5 years of consecutive, documented farm labor the price for 1.35 million green cards. I'm not sure it is necessary or fair to attach what some have called indentured service to the legalization process. I wonder what business leaders in other industries, undocumented workers in other industries, and U.S. citizens think of handing the agricultural industry 1.35 million green cards as a goverment provided "retention bonus" they can use to attract workers while keeping their wages low. Farm workers line up at the food bank every year, and we should be thinking about how to increase farm wages, not lower them.

And I wonder what the effect would have been this year if AgJobs had passed years ago. With a recession that has sent lots of laid off construction and other workers into the farm labor market combined with a drought; labor mobility and adaptibility are important now. Some undocumented workers have left the U.S. and gone home since jobs are hard to find here. Would we better or worse off this year if 1.35 million "blue card" holders were trapped in their 5 years of service and forced to work 150 days in agriculture in 2009? It seems to me that this might have driven unemployment even higher.

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