YAKIMA — A proposal to subject farm labor contractors to background checks and other new requirements has drawn opposition from some business owners and farm groups, who say the new rules could worsen an already tight labor supply.
Under the draft proposal developed by the state Department of Labor and Industries, farm labor contractors would have to post a repatriation bond to cover room, board and travel expenses for foreign guest workers.
The proposed legislation would also cap fees that contractors could charge workers, require background checks of contractors and raise the annual licensing fee to $100 from $35.
Some farm groups and labor contractors argued that the proposal would punish law-abiding labor contractors for the sins of problem operators, such as Global Horizons.
The Los Angeles-based company brought about 260 workers from Thailand to the Yakima Valley in 2004 and 2005. Labor and Industries revoked the company's license last December for failure to correct labor and insurance-law violations in a timely manner.
Global is fighting the decision.
"This bill is going to make it more difficult for farm labor contractors and growers," said Jim Hazen, executive director of the Wenatchee-based Washington State Horticultural Association, during a panel discussion last week at the annual Washington Farm Bureau conference.
Richard Ervin, program manager for employment standards at Labor and Industries, said the agency was caught flat-footed by Global Horizons.
"I would have liked the opportunity to have corrected that situation before it happened," he said.
Others in the audience of 20 said the proposal would add a layer of state bureaucracy to the already cumbersome recruitment process under the federal H-2A guest-worker program. The program allows growers to import labor if they can prove a shortage of domestic workers exists.
"You're going to have state and federal law conflicting and H-2A is already too complex," said Dan Fazio, director of employer services for the Washington Farm Bureau.
The proposed changes will be presented to the 2007 Legislature, which convenes Jan. 8.
—The Associated Press