For the first time in 42 years, a grower addressed the biennial convention of the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) on August 29 in Fresno, Calif. Peter Orum, owner of the Midwest Groundcovers nursery operation, St. Charles, Ill., and newly elected president of the American Nursery & Landscape Association (ANLA), spoke to the estimated 1,000 UFW delegates and other attendees at the invitation of UFW president Arturo Rodriguez.
The invitation came as the groups press for enactment of sweeping farm labor reform legislation known as AgJOBS (S.1645, H.R.3142). AgJOBS has the backing of 63 U.S. Senators of both parties and 117 Representatives in the House of Representatives. It also has attracted the endorsement of almost every major agricultural commodity and employer organization, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO and other labor advocates, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and every major national Hispanic and immigrant rights group.
Describing the challenges that have drawn historic adversaries together, Orum said, “I am here today because we are fighting together for the future of American agriculture. The Labor and Immigration bill, S.1645 and H.R.3142 or AgJOBS as we call it, — is absolutely essential to that future. If we do not have a dependable workforce now and in the future, the American specialty agriculture as we know it will little by little disappear to other countries. And that will happen to vegetables and fruit as well as to nursery plants, livestock and many other crops and products. We are in the same boat. We want to keep these farms and these jobs in America! We want our trained, experienced and trusted workers to be able to keep working with us, to live openly in our society.”
Only election-year politics stand in the way of Congress enacting AgJOBS into law, thus beginning the process of systematically overhauling America’s broken immigration system starting with the one industry where the problems are stark and the bipartisan solution is ripe, though not without controversy, according to ANLA.
Said Orum, “Our anti-immigration adversaries have nothing to offer that can function. They don’t even have the guts to follow the logic of their own talk and [follow through on] deporting all of these workers. Maybe they also know that the country would come to a screeching halt if that was done. So these people stand by the principle that our nation must “never reward illegal behavior,” yet they seem to tolerate the lawless status quo of smugglers and deaths in the deserts and farmers struggling to stay out of jail or bankruptcy court.”
Both leaders — Orum and Rodriguez — joined in calling for President Bush to seize the opportunity at hand, by urging the Senate to pass AgJOBS immediately upon returning to Washington in September.