Mr. Robert J. Dolibois, CAE
Executive Vice President
American Nursery & Landscape Association
H.R. 4548- the Agricultural Job Opportunity and Benefits Act
Before The Subcommittee on Immigration & Claims
Committee on Judiciary
United States House of Representatives
June 15, 2000
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, it is an honor to appear before you today to offer the following testimony on H-2A guestworker reform. My name is
Bob Dolibois and I am the Executive Vice President of the American Nursery & Landscape Association. ANLA is the national trade association for the nursery and
landscape industry. We represent 2500 production nurseries, landscape firms, retail garden centers and horticultural distributions centers, and the 16,000 additional
family farm and small business members of the state and regional nursery landscape associations.
Mr. Chairman, the H-2A temporary alien labor program must be reformed this year. The reasons are simple. In our full employment economy, recent government
enforcement activity has shown that agriculture does not have an adequate legal labor supply.
Our industry has felt the effects of the laws, which prohibit the employment of people without proper work authorization and documentation. We know this from
conversations with our associates at conventions, committee meetings, casual conversations, and through our own personal experiences.
The problem has become a crisis for several reasons:
1) Low employment. Our thriving economy has reduced the number of applicants available for hire. Even Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan has
acknowledged the clear and present threat to U.S. economic prosperity posed by the growing shortage of workers in sectors such as agriculture and the service
2) Stepped up activity by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in apprehending undocumented workers.
3) Heightened Social Security Administration activity requesting verification of names and Social Security number mismatches.
I can tell you emphatically that ANLA members are letting us know that finding adequate legal labor is a major problem and that, in many cases, it is getting to an
economic breaking point. In 1996 the warning signals were very clear about the pending crisis. Today, that crisis is at the door and it is affecting this nation's
labor-intensive agricultural industry and supporting industries and economies.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) Enumeration Verification System (EVS) is impacting the Agricultural Labor Supply. To help ensure more accurate
reporting of Social Security Information, the SSA promoted the voluntary use of EVS, the Enumeration Verification System. The system is intended to ensure that
names and Social Security numbers reported on W-2
forms match SSA records and that employee accounts are properly credited with earnings. Few people can argue with the need to do that. Growers using EVS
throughout the country for new hires are receiving letters from SSA informing them that large percentages of their W-2 names and social security numbers do not
match. SSA informs employers in these letters that the mismatched information must be corrected and returned within forty five days of the warning letter and further
warns that if the employer's report is not corrected after the second filing with the SSA, the employer may be penalized by the IRS.
This presents two problems for the employer and the employee. If the worker is still employed and on the mismatch list, he must go immediately to the local SSA
office to straighten out the problem. If he can't rectify the matter, the employer has no choice but to let the employee go, even during the time-critical peak harvest of
a perishable product.
The second problem is that because of the seasonal and temporary nature of the work, many of the workers who show up on the mismatch letters are no longer with
the grower. While this doesn't always affect the grower immediately, it does affect the grower and workers in the future as these workers come back to the farm to
work in subsequent seasons. Returning employees can only work for the grower after they have addressed the mismatch or error with SSA. This makes the filling of
employment needs more difficult.
Mr. Chairman, to make matters even more difficult for growers, it appears the information gathered by the SSA is now being used for purposes unrelated to Social
Security number verification. We understand that the SSA, on occasion, shares the results of its' EVS information with the INS. The effectiveness and quick turn
around of the EVS reports to employers is forcing many agricultural employers to pursue all options, including the use legal temporary alien workers.
A few months ago, a nursery in the Northwest announced that it lost 260 employees in a year due to mismatched names and Social Security numbers and faced an
I-9 audit. The nursery was forced to recruit and train nearly an entire new workforce at one of its' locations, and learned through the process that some of the
workers whose names and numbers had been verified by the Social Security Administration were actually undocumented. Another nursery in the South lost 150
workers, many of them older, long-time, trained and productive employees.
Mr. Chairman, ANLA does not oppose INS enforcement activity or the EVS verification system. Our concern is that when these programs screen out unauthorized
workers then there must be an effective way of replacing those workers. Employers are caught between a rock and a hard place when hiring.
On one hand, prospective workers must present acceptable documents to the employer. Employers do their best to check this documentation as required by law.
Yet, employers are not INS agents or document experts. Employers want to obey the laws but they also want to remain in business. Employees who must be let go
are often relatively long-term employees, and many are supervisors. A sudden loss of workers puts us in a difficult position to harvest our crops.
The H-2A agricultural guestworker program must be fixed. Unfortunately, as the legal domestic labor supply dwindles, agricultural employers must turn to legal
temporary alien workers under the H-2A program. The existing H-2A program has failed to be a reliable source of temporary and seasonal alien agricultural
workers for many who have tried to use it. It is characterized by extensive complex regulations that hamstring employers who try to use it and by costly litigation
challenging its use when alien seasonal workers are sought. The regulatory burdens leave growers waiting with uncertainty and anxiety with regard to whether they
will be certified by the Department of Labor (DOL) to obtain workers in a timely manner. This is especially problematic with regard to the production of perishable
Mr. Chairman, this whole problem comes down to the people. The American people need the products produced by agricultural workers. The availability of
domestic workers is decreasing. Last week I watched a debate on C-SPAN about education. It appeared the goal of improved American education is to move all
students towards quality, higher paying jobs. That's a great goal, but many of the jobs in agriculture involve hard physical work, long hours, and time outside in the
elements. Where are these workers in your education plan?
I also believe that seasonal agriculture workers help create quality, higher paying jobs. Without seasonal workers we wouldn't need our college graduates in
landscape architecture, Horticulture, Agri-Business, business management, etc. If we don't have seasonal workers the production will have to move to countries that
have the labor available. When we bring seasonal workers to local communities we keep the money there at the local hardware store, the agriculture equipment
dealer, and all the other businesses ANLA members and their employees shop use in a local community. How many more jobs are created because of the money
we bring into our community by growing and selling our agriculture products? If growers are able to hire more seasonal workers, they will be able to expand their
business and more money will come to the communities instead of heading out of the country.
In conclusion Mr. Chairman, ANLA applauds your efforts, and especially the exhausting efforts of Congressman Pombo, for continuing to advance legislation to
reform the badly broken H-2A Temporary and Seasonal Worker Program.
We must work together to get the job done in 2000. The agriculture industry cannot wait another year to find a resolution to this rapidly expanding labor problem.
The health and survival of our industry, our communities, our country, depends on it. I want to thank you and the Committee for the opportunity to address this issue.
The members of ANLA look forward to working with you over the next few weeks to finally pass H-2A reform in the 106th Congress.