COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2006--Continued -- (Senate - May 22, 2006)
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Mr. CRAIG. I believe it is fair and balanced. The reason it is is because we pushed a wage scale that is already there back 3 years. We do it this time to get right what the Senator from Georgia has proposed. He has shown the disparity that already exists out there--and it exists in all formulations when it relates to agriculture and agricultural jobs. We have never focused on agriculture except in the H-2A area. We believe it did get out of line, and that is why it is shoved back. Then we proceed, just as the Senator mentioned, in a methodical way to examine the country and get the wage scale rate right.
Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Is it not true that when I introduced the blue card program in the Judiciary Committee I just took that part of the H-2A program which the Senator and Senator Kennedy had put together in the AgJOBS bill?
Mr. CRAIG. That is correct.
Mrs. FEINSTEIN. This has been a longstanding compromise that has been out there, which is a negotiated compromise.
If I might ask one other question, in the negotiations that the Senator had on AgJOBS, how long did it take to come up with this negotiated compromise?
Mr. CRAIG. Frankly, the adverse wage issue was one of the more contentious, for a variety of reasons--first of all, because producers saw it as being complicated with a lot of requirements other than just a wage, and obviously employment saw it as an advantage but limited. As a result, we were able to agree to shove it back.
As I say, that rarely happens in American history, to actually by law push the wage scale back but to do so with the understanding that we would get equity and fairness through the approach that the Senator has outlined. That was the approach we used. A coalition of well over 500, including agriculture, a lot of agricultural producers.
Mrs. FEINSTEIN. How long has this agreement been in place?
Mr. CRAIG. About 3 years--2 1/2 years, actually, as we formulated it.
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Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, standing in opposition to the amendment, it is fascinating to me that we now want to play a game of what groups and whose associations. I find it fascinating that the California Farm Bureau, which supports the position, isn't quite good enough. The California Apple Commission, the California Avocado Commission, the California Association of Nurseries and Garden Centers, the California Association of Wine Grape Growers, the California Canners and Peach Association, the California Citrus Mutual--we have nearly 500 groups that have endorsed this.
The reason they have endorsed it is because they see the need to do it right and get a reasonable transition.
The Web site the Senator from Georgia is talking about has to be right. It has to be effective and reflective. It doesn't do that today. That information is now not available in that context.
Let me go back to the transition. We are talking about those who are illegal today and wanting them to come forward, get a background check, show us their credentials, qualify for a transitional status, called earned adjustment status, and a blue card, and to do so in a fair and responsible fashion.
They can stay and continue to work. While they are doing that, we are going to work to get the wage scale right. In our work over the last good number of years, literally hundreds and hundreds of agricultural groups and associations have stepped forward and said: Help us fix this. Help us use this blue card to get across, in a transitional way, for a legal workforce, in a reformed H-2A program. The compromise that the Senator from California talked about was just that. It was a transitional wage to get this fair and equitable.
What the Senator from Georgia is doing is not affecting the 40,000-plus of H-2A under adverse wage. We are doing that. We are shoving those wages back. He is affecting the 1.5 million that may cause agriculture to become noncompetitive if we don't get the wage scale rate right and involve agriculture along with the Department of Labor, as our studies would do, to make sure we get an equitable and fair wage.
Fair means two sides. For the worker, it means certainty; for the producer, absolutely, the product that is produced--especially in the vegetable crops, in the intensified labor crops--has got to be competitive against a world market crop, or we will shove those producers and that kind of production out of the country.
We have to do it in a balanced way. What we have offered allows the Senator from Georgia, as the chairman of the Agriculture Committee, to participate. He did not participate in these negotiations because he did not agree with them. He did not agree with the transition of getting through what we attempted to do in AgJOBS. That was his choice. In the end, both he and I agreed on many of the provisions except this one. It is important we stay with the work product.
Literally hundreds and hundreds of farm groups and associations across the Nation that deal with this type of workforce recognize the need of the transitional period of time and the legality of the workforce, as do we. It is reflected in the bill. I hope our colleagues continue to support it.
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Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, as of April of 2006, the average fieldworker in the United States was paid $8.96 an hour. The average livestock worker was paid $9.30 an hour. The minimum wage is $5.15. Do the math. That is why, when we put this bill together, we said we have to get it right for all parties involved.
I agree with the Senator from Georgia, producers are willing to pay a fair wage. And they should. And workers who work as hard as agricultural workers ought to be paid a fair and good wage. At the same time, we compete in a world market, and I hope we stay there.
I don't think you can meet with one farm organization and establish what the prevailing wage is going to be. That is why we mandated in our bill that the Department of Labor work with agriculture to get it right because we conclude that the H-2A adverse effect wage rate got out of line. I don't know what the right wage is. I wager that the Senator from Georgia probably doesn't know where it ought to be, either, in every segment of agriculture in our country.
I wish the Senators would stay with the bill and vote down the Chambliss amendment because in the end we want to get it right for all involved. We want to keep American agriculture competitive in a world market.
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