The Washington Farm Bureau and other agriculture-related groups are turning up their political heat for the passage of House Bill 1896, which is scheduled for public hearing before the House Committee on Commerce and Labor tomorrow.
Despite record numbers of unemployed workers, there are still not enough legal seasonal workers available to meet the demand. But many of these available workers are not authorized to work here because of their immigrations status.
The Washington essential worker program outlined in the bill would allow for comprehensive immigration reform and would: allow employers with the need for seasonal, peak need, or project related workers to request assistance from the state in hiring legal workers; direct the state to request appropriate waivers from the federal government and negotiate directly with other countries to provide these workers; provide a preference for the local workforce for jobs requested in the program; charge employers an appropriate fee for services provided by the state; and, provide workers designated as “essential workers” with training programs such as English language classes.
Agriculture is the largest employer in the state. More than 250,000 people are employed directly in agriculture, not counting processing, transporting and trade related jobs that flow some $30 billion into the state economy.