On April 28, 2020, President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act, which classified the meatpacking and food processing plant industry (Processing Plants) as part of the nation’s “essential workers” category of the workforce.
The importance of Processing Plants in our food supply chain has made itself evident throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Processing Plant jobs do not appeal to Americans. Therefore, Plants consistently face labor shortages even when our nation is not in crisis. Maintaining a fully-staffed plant in the face of a pandemic is increasingly difficult.
Processing Plants require thousands of workers annually, but the unappealing work environment creates an employment gap. These jobs are considered the lowest labor position on America’s totem pole. Despite this, the population relies on them as their vital source for food. There is an incredible amount of pressure on these plants to abide by current labor laws while also fulfilling their obligation to feed Americans, and to do so at a reasonable price.
All of these factors work against Processing Plants who find it difficult to obtain legal labor to keep up with the demand they’re currently facing. A truly effective legal avenue does not exist at this time. How can we hold these Processing Plants accountable for providing the nation’s food supply if we do not also provide an option for them to obtain legal labor
Many meat producers are being forced to euthanize animals and make decisions with very little information because of the labor shortage happening within Processing Plants. As a result, Americans are being limited on the amount of meat, if any, they can buy in grocery stores and restaurants.
Without a consistent labor solution, Processing Plants will continue to face employment gaps and labor shortages. COVID-19 has shed a light on an issue that farmers and ranchers are all too familiar with, but the solution is clear. Broaden the definition of agriculture throughout the food supply chain.
There is a clear demand for Processing Plants to continue production. With only a partial workforce, Americans will be left without meat. We have to step in and provide a solution for the Plants in the form of labor relief. Now more than ever, we know how essential Plants are when it comes to feeding America. We have to help them. And to help them, we have to provide effective and legal labor relief.
Some may argue that “Americans would take these jobs if they would increase the wage rates,” but that is untrue. It is difficult to hire and relocate a large number of people and their families, and it makes no economic sense. The agricultural economy is globally competitive, and to stay globally competitive, Plants must keep prices low. Failure to do so would be catastrophic for the American agricultural industry.
Request for Temporary Relief
Allow for the emergency, temporary use of H-2A labor in Processing Plants until a long-term visa can be established. This workforce would supplement the current legal workforce, not replace it. We need to allow for 10 months of H-2A labor in meatpacking and processing plants to renew indefinitely until a long-term visa is established. The need for a capless H-2A program is critical to Processing Plants’ survival; this makes it critical to the survival of an affordable food supply for the nation. The current demand for food equates to the demand for additional labor.
Request for Long-Term Relief
- Create an Agriculture Visa (A Visa) to supplement labor shortages throughout the food supply chain that are historically filled by illegal laborers or are simply left unfilled.
- Allow farmers and ranchers to seek foreign labor if they are unable to hire qualified, legal individuals in the United States for year-round employment.
- Examples of difficult positions to fill in the agricultural industry:
- Meatpacking workforce
- Animal caretakers/herspersons
- Barn technicians/maintenance
- Biosecurity technicians
- Truck drivers/animal haulers
- Farm management
- Dairy milkers
- Poultry flock management
Food demand is not seasonal. The labor relief we offer to these employers should not be seasonal either.