Will Special Interests Determine Who Does Farm Labor In WA?
A frustrated but determined 13th District State Representative Alex Ybarra (R) of Quincy came on the KIT Morning News to talk about Senate Bill 5396. The Representative comes from Eastern Washington Ag Country and he sees SB 5396 having an impact on who ultimately will work in fields and orchards of the state.
Under the current law in Washington, there is a tax break when farmers build farmworker housing. Specifically, the purchase of goods and services used in constructing, repairing, decorating or improving new or existing structures used exclusively for agricultural employee housing are exempt from sales and use tax.
The tax exemption also applies to labor and services related to construction and sales of items that become part of the hosing structures. A restriction of current law is that agricultural employee housing, if provided on a seasonal basis, could not be used for a different purpose in the off-season.
Looking at the proposed new law we have to understand that there are a two labor groups considered in the greater discussion. There are the migrant workers - legal and illegal - who populate Washington or live in the continental United States and there are the foreign workers brought into the country by way of the federal H-2A program.
Under the H-2A Program - "Employers are responsible for housing H-2A workers and providing them with daily transport, which means there are additional health and safety issues employers need to consider." H-2A farmworkers make up 10% of crop farmworkers in the country.
More and more farmers are looking to turn to the H-2A program as a source of assurance and insurance. Under H-2A, farmers don't have to worry about finding a sufficient and reliable labor force...costs are known and manageable...and the workers have a guarantee of work hours and they return to their home countries at the end of their contracts..
Under the new law there is additional flexibility in how the farmworker facilities can be used after the season but it only applies to H-2A housing. However the problem according to Rep. Ybarra says under the new law, the current tax exemption would not apply to H-2A housing which he says nudges farmers to build the less expensive housing and thus forces the hiring of in-state workers.