The Biden administration will work with the United Farm Workers to develop a $65 million program broadly aimed at helping farms implement “robust health and safety standards” for employees and preventing unfair recruitment practices for H-2A workers.

The Agriculture Department plans to launch the program ahead of the 2023 growing season.

“UFW will work with relevant stakeholders, including farmers, farmworkers, farmworker advocates, and unions, to ensure that the agency benefits from a wide range of views,” the department said in a press release.

UFW’s work will be funded through a technical assistance cooperative agreement with USDA.

The department’s press release provided few details on what the program was intended to do, but said it would "support efforts to improve working conditions for both U.S. and H-2A workers and ensure that H-2A workers are not subjected to unfair recruitment practices.”

Kristi Boswell, a former adviser to USDA under the Trump administration who is now a public policy counsel with Alston and Bird, said that “instituting a union led effort - without consulting farmer organizations prior to this announcement - raises questions about whether this will be the most effective way forward.

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“Farmers and ranchers, as the key constituency of USDA, want to engage directly with the Department in this process in order to share concerns and inform development of a program that is vital to their day-to-day operations.”

Michael Marsh, president and CEO of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, said his group has not been briefed on USDA's plan. 

"It makes sense to have agricultural employers deeply involved in this process, having a voice in delivering positive outcomes to workers, consumers, and employers alike," Marsh told Agri-Pulse. "We look forward to the secretary reaching out to us and allowing agricultural employers to be a key part of this important effort."

He said NCAE represents employers, associations and agents that hire more than 80% of the domestic and H-2A farmworkers in the United States and has included Central American labor ministers in its events. 

The program will be funded out of money included in the American Rescue Plan, which was enacted in March 2021.

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