FAIR MINIMUM WAGE ACT OF 2007--Continued -- (Senate - January 30, 2007)
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Mr. CRAIG. Madam President, let me join with my colleagues on this issue in thanking the Senator from Georgia for withdrawing the amendment. It is possible to say that the concept of adverse wage is an anomaly unto itself, specific to the H-2A program. That is not to suggest it is right. It is to suggest that it was there and it ratcheted up on an automatic basis to establish the wage base for H-2A workers in the guest worker program.
The Senator from California is right. As we began to negotiate and create what is now known as AgJOBS, which she and I reintroduced earlier this year, in that was a back-off from the adverse wage and a holding of the line for a period of time to level out. What the Senator from Georgia is attempting to do is establish a new wage rate. I think the Senator from California is right; we are not sure where it would go or what it would mean.
I am going to stand here and say that is not to suggest a new wage rate is not the right way to go, to establish equity between H-2A and non-H-2A workers who are doing the same job in the field, or somewhere else in agriculture. But there ought to be a consistency. If we are going to bring large groups of guest workers in--and we will, we always have; there are certain types of work only they will do--then I think we have to be sensitive to the uniqueness of that situation.
But at the same time, it is important that we are sensitive to all of the other requirements we put upon the employer as a part of the total employment package. Is it housing? Certain other conditions along with the wage that they necessarily would not have to pay to a domestic worker who was doing comparable wage but was outside the H-2A program?
There is a disparity today. That is why we backed it off in the negotiations. H-2A workers, by their definition, were becoming noncompetitive. Of course, in the environment in which we were working, they were becoming noncompetitive to the illegal who was in the market. So you have disparity across the board. I don't dispute what the Senator from Georgia is attempting to do. I visited with some labor attorneys who found it very problematic. If you are going to do this, we ought to work collectively, review it appropriately, apply it against a variety of workforces to see that it is uniform and just for all employees and employers who may, because of their uniqueness, provide certain conditions for the worker that otherwise would not be necessary to provide.
I used to be in agriculture. We paid a certain wage. We provided a house and we provided fuel for the rig. We also provided certain grocery and food supplies. That was all viewed as a factor of employment with the employee. There are a variety of things we have to get correct. The Senator from California said it would have muddied the water a great deal. I think it would have frustrated it. I think it would have taken out part of the force that it is valuable that we keep together as we try to reform the H-2A program, deal with the problem we currently have to secure and stabilize a legal, transparent workforce for American agriculture, treat foreign nationals right who come here legally for the purpose of that kind of employment.
I don't know that this would have accomplished it. Withdrawing it, coming together with us, trying to resolve this problem I think offers us an opportunity to get our work done on this portion of immigration reform this year. I hope and I know the Senator from California agrees with me. I hope we can accomplish that by the end of the year.
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Mr. CRAIG. I agree totally and I agree for all the reasons the Senator from California put forward--and a couple more. One of the things the Congress is committed to--both the Senators on the floor at this moment have voted for it--is to secure our Southwest border. We are investing heavily on that at this moment, and we should be. There is no question about that. We may argue about how many miles of fence, but we all recognize an unsecured border is a very problematic thing. It is closing. It is becoming secure and we are going to continue to invest in it.
As we are doing that, all of these other problems are beginning to happen because that workforce is moving around and they are not staying with agriculture. The Senator lost a tremendous amount this year in the San Joaquin, in the greater agricultural area of California.
I spoke with young farmers and ranchers of the Idaho Farm Bureau this weekend. We have lost hundreds of millions--nowhere near what the Senator from California has lost, but we have a different kind of agriculture. The intensity of ours, the hand labor of ours is simply not as great as the Senator's. But there is a real problem and that problem is quite simple. If we don't get this corrected, we may well be looking at $5 billion worth of agricultural loss this year, and half of that or more will come from California alone, let alone all the other areas, and I may even be conservative in my guesstimate.
So the Senator is absolutely right. Now we are coupled with the natural weather disasters that have hit California and could hit my State at some time in the future. That is typical of agriculture. But, if we provide a stable and secure workforce that is legal, then we have helped our agriculture a great deal in knowing that when they do produce a crop, they have the people there to help them get it out of the field, get it to the processor and ultimately to the retail shelves of America.
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