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Comprehensive Immigraton Reform Act of 2006--Continued

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, I appreciate very much the arguments made by the Senator from Idaho, but there are a couple of very obvious faults in the argument relative to the wages farmers should pay to the folks who work for them.

First of all, the adverse effect wage rate, which is in the current law and is in the current bill, and is supported by Senator Craig, is the only provision in the labor laws of this land that uses the adverse effect wage rate, and we both recognize that this is a flawed system. By his own admission, the Senator from Idaho recognized it, and I recognize it. It is a flawed system because it was never intended to be used by the Department of Labor as a means by which wages would be set. So my response to that is, let's take what all other labor laws utilize in determining wages, and that is a prevailing wage.

You come up with a method whereby the skills that are attached to the individual laborer, the location where that laborer is going to work, and the type of job for which that person is to be hired determine how much that person is going to be paid. What happens now is there is simply a rollback in the current bill of the adverse effect wage rate to the year 2002. That is 4 years ago. And by rolling it back 4 years, there is an admission that there is a significant problem there.

I don't want to misquote my friend from Idaho, but the other night, Thursday night, when we were arguing about this on the floor--I might add, in a way that moves both of us to the same conclusion, which is to make sure we provide that quality workforce--the Senator from Idaho said that at the end of the day, what he wants to get is a prevailing wage. I am going to talk about that again in a minute. But if we want to get to a prevailing wage, let's get to it now.

Mr. CRAIG. Would the Senator yield?

Mr. CHAMBLISS. I am happy to yield.

Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, I don't think he and I disagree. My concern is you are affecting 1.5 million workers by your immediate action, and I am affecting 40,000-plus in rolling them back. And we are giving a period of transition of 3 years to get right what you have proposed. My concern is that in getting right what you proposed, you have an immediate effect on the next phase of agricultural jobs, and that is the transitional period of time in qualifying the blue card worker to become a permanent worker or a permanent legal worker, and that immediately inflates the wage base. And then immediately upon inflating it once, you inflate it again the next year and the next year because you have lifted the base, ratcheted it up by each year's calculation. I think that is a very legitimate concern. So I ask you, is that not the impact of what you do? I am affecting 40,000-plus; you are affecting 1.5 million.

Mr. CHAMBLISS. I reclaim my time, Mr. President.

Here is the deal. The deal today is that a farmer in America, wherever he may be, whether he is in Idaho or Georgia, who goes out and hires workers to come here legally, pays the adverse effect wage rate. In my State, that happens to be about $8.37 an hour right now. In addition to that, they pay for their transportation, they pay for all their consular fees, they provide housing, so the $8.37 an hour is a little bit misleading. It is actually more in benefits than that. The neighbor next door to that farmer, which is that category of blue card worker that you address in your comments, he is paying probably $5.15 an hour to that individual. So the farmer who is trying to be legal is paying a fair wage rate, or paying a wage rate with benefits that is significantly different than the gentleman that he is competing with on the farm next door.

What the proposed legislation does is continue that difference. It takes those individuals who are here illegally today and says we are not going to guarantee them the adverse effect wage rate or the prevailing wage rate. We are going to continue to treat them as a second class citizen, and we are going to allow farmers who use them to have an advantage over farmers who use legal workers.

All my amendment says is that everybody ought to use legal workers. We ought to give farmers across America the opportunity to choose from a pool of workers to plant, tend, and harvest their crops. During the whole course of the time that they are here in a legal manner, working under that contract, before they have to go home, we want to make sure they are paid a fair wage. That wage is determined as the prevailing wage rate by the Department of Labor, and it is based, again, on the skill of that worker, on the job for which that worker is hired, and on the wages that are prevailing in the area in which that worker is hired. That is exactly what my amendment does.

We don't eliminate the blue card. You still have the blue card. The folks who hire blue card workers under the current bill are going to have an advantage over those employers, those farmers who have been legal and utilized H-2A and who want to utilize H-2A in the future.

It is a very skewed way of arriving at a wage rate that we both agree upon. The question is, How do you get from today, from May 22, 2006, to a prevailing wage rate?

I say let's do it now. What the underlying bill says is let's take 35,000 or 40,000 workers who are here currently under H-2A, and let's allow them get to a prevailing wage rate down the road, within some certain period of time. But let's take this other 1.5 million and let's keep them depressed. Let's let farmers who hire that blue card worker continue. And it is not going to go away. You better believe they will be here working because they are going to pay them a lower wage rate. It is not fair.

My amendment is all about fairness, and it requires farmers to pay a reasonable wage rate. They don't mind paying a reasonable wage rate to get an honest day's work out of an employee.

This amendment is not about numbers either. We had a lot of discussion the other night about numbers which, frankly, were developed by the American Farm Bureau. The American Farm Bureau has access to every farm in America. They have the ability to come up with what are the wage rates that are being paid by every farmer in America. That is how we arrived at our numbers. It is not about how Senator Craig arrived at his numbers for the adverse effect wage rate. That is not an argument on our part. This amendment is simply about fairness.

The AgJOBS portion of the underlying bill is simply not fair. It is not fair to the employers across the United States, and it is not fair to those who work on our farms--whether they are illegal, whether they are in a temporary worker program, a legal permanent resident, or a U.S. citizen.

Why? Because the underlying bill provides wage guarantees only to those foreign workers who come in under the temporary H-2A program. At present, those workers do number in--I don't know whether it is 35,000 to 40,000 or 45,000 to 50,000 this year, but that is the range it will be. The 1.5 million workers who will be legalized under the AgJOBS blue card program do not receive a wage guarantee. This is a tremendous flaw in the AgJOBS bill, in my opinion. If these blue card workers are willing to work for $5.15 an hour, then that is all their employers have to pay them. Those folks who are here legally are going to be required to be paid the adverse effect wage rate, which is significantly above that minimum wage rate of $5.15.

What is ironic to me is that these workers, whether here on a blue card or on a H-2A visa, are essentially the same. Most come from the same country, Mexico; and many from the same villages. Most are here because of the poverty that exists in their home countries. All are here to earn money to support their families and improve the quality of their lives.

Many will work in the same occupations. Shouldn't they be treated the same? I believe they should. Under the AgJOBS bill, they are not. The distinguished Senator from Idaho might argue that they are different and should be treated differently. He does, in a way, say that because those who are legalized with the blue card program will be here permanently. However, legalized blue card workers do not have permanent status. The blue card program simply allows these legal workers to stay here, employed in agriculture, until they meet all the requirements for legal permanent status.

No one can calculate how many of these transitional workers will ever become legal permanent residents. Until they achieve legal permanent resident status they should be considered temporary foreign workers and treated similarly.

From the employer's side, no difference exists between employers who utilize the H-2A program and those who use the blue card program. This applies across the board to all commodities produced and livestock raised production methods and for their need of dependable workers. There is a major difference though. H-2A workers, many of whom have been coming to the same employers for years in this country legally--the vast majority did not bring their family members, and they returned home at the end of their periods of employment, just as the law requires.

These H-2A workers were not exploited while they were here because the employers played by the rules. Playing by the rules was expensive. The adverse effect wage rate is expensive. But those employers did it to their competitive disadvantage with a neighbor who employed illegals at a significantly lower rate, who did not pay the transportation costs of those workers, and did not provide those workers with housing.

On the other hand, illegal workers who will benefit from the blue card program broke our laws when they came here, even though they came here for the same reasons as the H-2A worker. The employers who hired them, perhaps some out of absolute necessity--and I understand that--but, by doing that, they also broke our laws. Regardless of the circumstances under which those illegal workers are employed in agriculture now, I would be willing to bet that many were exploited, underpaid, and indentured along the way.

That is why I do not understand why the underlying bill fails to protect the illegal workers, who adjust their status, and guarantee them a fair wage.

I also don't understand why the AgJOBS bill fails to protect U.S. workers who do farm work by neglecting to require employers who use foreign labor, whether they access via the H-2A program or the blue card program, to pay all workers in that occupation a prevailing wage.

Mr. CRAIG. Will the Senator yield on that point?

Mr. CHAMBLISS. I will be happy to.

Mr. CRAIG. Inside the AgJOBS Act there is a U.S. labor pool established. They would pay the going wage. They have to make sure that pool is exhausted so U.S. citizen agricultural workers are protected. You go there first before you go to hire a blue card worker or a H-2A-qualified worker.

I hope the Senator understands that they are protected in that sense, as it relates to making sure that they are the first in line, if you will, for a job that is available if they would choose to work in that field at the wage that exists at that point.

Mr. CHAMBLISS. I guess the question is, though: How many U.S. workers are out there who do take advantage of that now, or would in the future? I think you and I both know the answer. It is minimal at best.

Reclaiming my time--I am about to run out of time.


Mr. CHAMBLISS. We are going to have our time split at 5:15. Agricultural employers who utilize blue card workers must only pay the blue card workers the minimum wage and are not required to pay U.S. workers any more than the minimum wage. I think we can agree on that.

The H-2A program requires that employers who utilize H-2A pay all workers in the same occupations in which they employ H-2A workers the same wage guaranteed to every other H-2A worker.

Throughout this immigration debate we have heard that widespread use of foreign workers will depress wages and that employers will reject U.S. workers in favor of foreign workers who are willing to work for less. In fact, the Senate passed by a voice vote an amendment that was put forward by the distinguished Senator from Illinois, Mr. Obama, addressing this very issue.

Rather than trying to make the same argument that Senator Obama made, I simply want to quote him because it was on the same issue of prevailing wage for another program, the H-2C program. Here is what he said. It was a very good explanation. Senator Obama said that his amendment essentially says:

..... the prevailing wage provisions in the underlying bill should be tightened to ensure that they apply to all workers and not just some workers. The way the underlying bill is currently structured, essentially those workers who fall outside of Davis-Bacon projects or collective bargaining agreements or other provisions are not going to be covered. That could be 25 million workers or so which could be subject to competition from guest workers, even though they are prepared to take the jobs that the employers are offering, if they were offered at a prevailing wage. My hope would be that we can work out whatever disagreements there are on the other side. This is a mechanism to ensure that the guest worker program is not used to undercut American workers and to put downward pressure on the wages of American workers.

That is exactly what I am saying because, if we have a prevailing wage, American workers are going to be more inclined to take those jobs rather than blue card workers coming in and being willing to take $5.15 an hour. That is exactly what is going to happen if we set the prevailing wage, which is where it ought to be, rather than utilizing your blue card program, which is going to wind up in millions, or hundreds of thousands of agricultural workers being hired at minimum wage.

Let me close by saying, here is the reason that the adverse effect wage rate is so skewed. This is the chart that shows which States are used in calculating the adverse effect wage rate. In my case we use the southeast region: Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina. A farm worker job, or a worker at the State farmers market in Atlanta, GA, is compared to the same agricultural worker at the farmers market in Thomasville, GA. They are 225 miles apart. One is a very urban area, Atlanta, GA. The other is a very rural area, Thomasville, GA. It is pretty easy to see why the Senator from Idaho says this is a skewed way to calculate wages. With that we agree.

The prevailing wage rate method of calculating wages says individuals who work at the farmers market in Atlanta will be paid a wage comparable to other farm workers in the Atlanta area. That wage earner in Thomasville, GA, will receive a wage that is comparable to agricultural workers who are paid in the Thomasville, GA, region.

I am prepared to yield back, assuming that we have approached the hour where we are going to divide these last 30 minutes?


Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

The Senator from California was not involved in those negotiations, and I chair the Agriculture Committee. I do not know how to respond to that other than by saying that certain segments of agriculture were involved in the negotiations, I assume. My dear friend from Massachusetts was involved, and I daresay that I have more farmers in my home county than we have in the vast majority of Massachusetts.

My point is not that these discussions did not take place over a long period of time between farmers--I don't know who they were. But I can tell you this: The American Farm Bureau has looked at the AgJOBS provision. They have looked at my amendment. They have looked at the bill that I submitted which was somewhat contrary to AgJOBS. The American Farm Bureau--which, as I said earlier, has access to virtually every farm in America, particularly from the standpoint of the calculation of wages--has concluded that my amendment is fair and reasonable. And the American Farm Bureau is recommending a ``yes'' vote on the Chambliss amendment.

To say that this has been discussed over a period of time by a group, or a large group--whatever the term was--of farmers across America, my farmers were not involved in those negotiations. Senator Craig and I have had any number of conversations about the bill and about our various amendments. But we were not involved in those negotiations.

I see my friend from Iowa, Senator Grassley. He comes from the Farm Belt of America. I daresay that his farmers were not involved in those negotiations. Let us be very clear about this. There was not a discussion or a negotiation by America's farmers for what they thought was best.

Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Will the Senator yield?

Mr. CHAMBLISS. I would be happy to yield.

Mrs. FEINSTEIN. I can speak for California, and California's Farm Bureau has signed off on this. I can tell the Senator that no State has as many farmers and growers as California does. This is the accepted agreement.

I thank the Senator.

Mr. CHAMBLISS. I thank the Senator from California for her comments, and I tell her that I dialog with many farmers in her State on a regular basis, particularly as chairman of the Agriculture Committee. I am hearing from a large number of her farmers in strong support of my amendment.

Again, when you say that a majority number of farmers in America think this is the way to go, you can't say that. That is simply not right. There are only--by Senator Craig's numbers--less than 50,000 farmers in America--and I happen to agree with him on this--who currently utilize H-2A. I daresay the rest of the farmers in America don't even know what ``adverse effect wage rate'' means. But I can tell you they know what ``prevailing wage rate'' means. They know when they hire a tractor driver in the southwest part of Texas what their neighbors are paying for a tractor driver. And that is how you calculate a prevailing wage. That is not how adverse effect wage rate says you will pay that tractor driver.

Whether farmers in California or farmers in Georgia or the northeast part of our country, the market should dictate, and the market dictates under the prevailing wage rate. It simply does not dictate under the adverse effect wage rate.

That is why, in the Senator's bill, the adverse effect wage rate is rolled back 4 years. There is a flaw in the way the wage rate is calculated. If you are going to roll back the wage rate, which is actually going to move toward the utilization of the prevailing wage rate, let's do it now. Let's require that all farmers in America pay a reasonable wage rate for their employees based upon what other farmers in that region pay for employees.

For example, I know in northern California there are different crops grown than in southern California. There are different types of jobs. But today, under the AgJOBS bill, a farmer in northern California will pay exactly the same wage rate as a farmer in southern California.

Here is the chart. This shows how wage rates under this bill are calculated. They use the entire State of California. It is a different type of farming. There is a different skill required in northern California than there is in southern California. There is a different skill required in a tractor driver versus somebody who goes into the field and cuts lettuce or cuts cabbage or cuts squash or whatever it may be.

Under the adverse effect wage rate in the base AgJOBS bill, that is not taken into consideration. Under the prevailing wage under my amendment, it is taken into consideration.

If anyone says it is difficult to determine, how do I know in my example of Thomasville, GA, what it takes to hire that worker? Let me tell you what you have to do. You simply have to go to the computer and plug into a Web site, the Department of Labor. And you designate the area. You put into the computer where you are located, what the job is, and the computer immediately gives you what the Department of Labor has determined to be a prevailing wage. It is very simple and very easy. It ensures that one farmer next door to another farmer is paying employees the same wage rate. You don't have a farmer who is paying $8.37 currently required by the adverse effect wage rate and the farmer next door paying $5.15 an hour for the same job.

This is about fairness. It is about equity. It is about ensuring that farm workers who come here under the base bill, which I, frankly, don't agree with, but if we are going to pass this, then let us be fair to those employees who come here and work in agriculture. Let us pay them the rate that is prevailing in the area in which they work.

I reserve the remainder of my time.


Mr. CHAMBLISS. The minimum wage in Georgia is $5.15 an hour.

Mr. KENNEDY. In agriculture?


Mr. KENNEDY. The State minimum wage in agriculture is $5.15 an hour. Am I right that there is no way that even those who are picking per bushel would go below $5.15 an hour?

Mr. CHAMBLISS. What happens is these wage earners in the fields in Georgia and all over the country go out and they take a bucket out into the field. They cut squash, cucumbers, or they cut whatever the crop may be, they put it in that bucket, they dump that bucket in a bin, and they are given a chip. At the end of the day, those chips add up to dollars. They are required to be paid the minimum of either the minimum wage or, in this case, the adverse effect wage rate.

Mr. KENNEDY. I understand I may be wrong, and I wish the Senator from Georgia would correct me, the State minimum wage does not apply to agricultural workers. That is my understanding. If I am wrong, I hope the Senator will correct me. My understanding is the State minimum wage does not apply to agricultural workers.

I withhold the remainder of my time.

Mr. CHAMBLISS. I yield 3 minutes to the Senator from Georgia, my colleague, Senator Isakson.


Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, I simply say to my friend from Massachusetts, I hear what the Senator is saying relative to the numbers the Senator just addressed, but here is what you are doing. You are taking 40,000 agricultural employees who now operate under H-2A and you are reducing their wages immediately. The chart Senator Craig had up here Thursday night showed what the numbers are. I don't remember what they are, but it is a significant reduction because you are rolling that wage back to what it was 4 years ago. Now, that is 40,000 agricultural workers.

Here is what you are doing to 1.5 million agricultural workers under your bill. You are going to allow farmers across America who do not participate in H-2A to pay those blue card workers $5.15 an hour. We can argue whether minimum wage is high enough, whether it ought to be more, but that is the effect of what you are doing with your blue card workers. So if the $7 number is good enough for H-2A or not good enough for H-2A, whatever it is, it ought to be good for those 1.5 million workers who will have a blue card. That is what fairness in my amendment is all about.

When Senator Craig says let's get it right, let's do get it right. We agree the adverse effect wage rate is wrong. There is no disagreement about that. The question is, How do we correct it? How do we get to the point where it is fair? The way we get to the point where it is fair is we take the same method of calculation we do under every other labor bill, including the one we just passed last week, the H-2C bill that Senator Obama said: Let's put a prevailing wage rate on H-2C. I say let's put a prevailing wage rate on H-2A.

We understand we are not the ones to calculate that. It is calculated by the Department of Labor. It is calculated by the Department of Labor based upon the fair and accurate wages paid to individuals in different parts of the country who perform different jobs within agriculture. It is very easy to ascertain by the farmer what that wage rate ought to be.

It will remove the ability of the next door neighbor to come in and undercut that farmer, whether he is a blue card worker or whether they continue to be here illegally. It will depress the wages for those farmers rather than raising the standard for all workers to be paid a fair wage. It will encourage farmers--this is what we want to do--to participate in the H-2A program. If we had every farmer in America doing that, they would have a quality supply of labor from which to choose. They would have to pay those workers a reasonable rate, and America would never be in a position of being dependent upon foreign imports for our food supply.

We cannot afford to get there. This is a national security issue. We need to make sure farmers have those workers from whom to choose to make sure their crops are harvested.

Mr. President, I yield back my time, and I ask for the yeas and nays.

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