December 28, 2011

State of Alabama
Press Release: Agriculture and Industries, Department of

A Grassroots Approach to Our Chronic Labor Shortage (Video Posted)

Montgomery, AL  - On December 6, 2011, Commissioner John McMillan hosted a meeting, in Mobile to bring agribusiness owners and farmers together with federal and state officials to help solve the chronic labor shortages created by Alabama's new immigration law.


Video of that meeting is now available on the Department of Agriculture and Industries website at .


Time will tell whether the meeting will yield measurable results to address a statewide shortage of labor in the $5.5 billion agriculture industry.


Earlier in 2011, when Alabama’s new immigration law went into effect, tens of thousands of Latino workers moved out of state, presumably to avoid arrest due to lack of proper documentation.


As a result, many farmers and agribusinesses, such as producers of poultry and catfish products as well as nursery growers, were left without a sufficient number of workers. Indeed, last summer and fall, we witnessed produce rotting in the fields throughout Alabama, again due to a lack of workers.


Responding to this emergency, the Department of Agriculture and Industries has launched a program to reach out to the industry and people in the local communities. Directing efforts in South Alabama is Bobby Cunningham, a community leader in Mobile who has helped us to launch this grassroots effort there.


About 200 people, including 150 from Mobile and Baldwin County agribusinesses, came to the December 6 public meeting to discuss alternatives to the chronic labor shortage. Thanks to U.S. Atty. Kenyen Brown of the Southern Alabama Federal District for his insights. He has formed a program to help men and women to transition from prison to the work place, and came to the meeting to discuss how he can help.


Also there was Robert Brantley, head of the Alabama Employment Centers, under the state’s Department of Industrial Relations. This department is working with farmers and agribusinesses to direct potential workers to job sites around the state.


Discussing the ins and outs of the federal H-2A and H-2B guest worker laws was Rodolfo Alvarez, CEO of GWS Guest Worker Services LLC, who provides hundreds of workers from Mexico through this program. The U.S. Department of Labor has proposed significant changes in these two programs that may render them inoperable for the agriculture industry.


The department thanks other organizations, including ministers from Mobile and Prichard, who have reached out to people in their communities in search of ready, willing and able workers. They have identified no less than 1,000 men and women available for work.


Nursery growers, sod farmers and landscapers in South Alabama represent a large part of this state’s billion-dollar nursery and landscape industry. Their labor needs hit a critical stage during the first quarter of 2012. Working with the South Alabama Nursery and Landscape Association, headed up by Debra Green, president and a nursery grower herself, we are cautiously optimistic that this is an approach that will yield results.


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