Proposed Measure Aims to Reform the Dairy Labor Law

Proposed Measure Aims to Reform the Dairy Labor Law

5/23/2011

One of the issues that have long been hounding dairy farmers is labor. Nevertheless, the congressional delegation of Vermont is seeking to lighten some of that pressure with modifications to the federal guest worker policy.

As of now, guest workers are limited to a one-year visa, and dairy farms, which are classified as non-seasonal operations, are prohibited from hiring through the program. The H-2A Improvement Act proposes modifications to the present seasonal worker visa program. If approved, the measure would allow dairy farmers to legally employ guest workers for a period of three years.

The reform bills have been filed in the U.S. Senate by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who both come from Vermont.  The House version was filed by Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat from Vermont. The Senate bill also ushers in bipartisan support with Sen. Mike Enzi, a Republican from Wyoming, as one of the six co-sponsors of the bill.

Addison County fruit and poultry farms already employ rotating sets of foreign workers under the H-2A program to carry out tasks like plucking turkeys and picking apples.

The H-2A improvement measure would amend regulations in order to provide a more stable foreign labor supply, not only for dairy, but also for goat and sheep herding operations, which also face a lot of the same labor woes as dairy does.

Leahy revealed that the visa extension from one year to three would allow the dairy farms to have a stable workforce. You can’t get workers for six months, then not milk the cows for six months,” said Leahy.

WRITTEN BY:

blakeh@wellsdrew.com