Recently, the Colorado Senate Committee on Business, Labor and Technology got a taste of just how serious the opposition to the Senate Bill 21-087 (Farm Workers Bill of Rights) really is.
Bonnie Brown, executive director of the Colorado Wool Growers Association, brought her considerable experience and knowledge in such matters to the panel’s first hearing on the already controversial legislation. Brown, who lives in Delta, went on record as strongly opposing the legislation. Unlike the cadre of bill sponsors who spoke before her in emotional tones, she appeared to have put facts on the table.
She said the bill, as proposed, usurps the federal regulation concerning H-2A regulation for guest workers. She was blunt: “I would like to see the H-2A program be exempted if this bill moves forward.”
Brown, who has testified in Washington and many other venues, brought specifics to bear.
“The current H-2A wage and regulatory framework was updated and approved under the Obama Administration. The H-2A guest worker program already addresses wages, hours worked, housing, and other job requirements. SB21-087 is punitive against employers with a first option of remedy being district court, which ignores the existing framework to address worker grievances.”
The fact that the authors of the bill missed that matter altogether is further evidence that Sen. Jessie Danielson collected no input from the ag community before bringing the bill to committee, according to other legislators, like Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, who represents North Eastern Colorado and who called her actions irresponsible.
Brown was focusing on the H-2A matter because many of the wool growers hire from outside the country. They recruit people who are specifically suited to work with sheep. For example, most of the herdsmen on the Etchart Livestock flocks come from Spain and Peru. Etchart has Peruvian and Basque sheepherders who have worked for him for many years.
Brown fired another salvo at what she considers a misstep by Colorado Legislative Services (CLS), which has played a role in the development of the bill.
Brown testified that Jennifer Rodriquez was in the room with Danielson when she finally met with producers following the bill’s publication. Rodriquez testified for passage of the bill. Brown recalled that Rodriquez was the first to testify last week. The problem is that CLS receives federal funding, which makes it illegal for her to be involved in any grassroots lobbying, according to a 2010 memo from Holsinger Law. Brown quoted a chunk of the memo.
Brown leveled the charge that the bill also is blind to private property rights and the liability and biosecurity created by open access.
“It is surprising that with the elevated concern about COVID and social distancing, that a bill is being pushed that jeopardizes the safety of our front-line ag workers,” she said. “Agricultural employers are already strained by ongoing drought conditions and the continuing rise of production costs, such as labor, fuel, transportation, and insurance. The net effect of significant additions of labor costs to ag employers will be more family farms and ranches being sold to developments and loss of jobs for ag workers,” she said.
The committee spent about half of a five-hour session hearing testimony on the labor bill. Anyone who wants to hear the whole testimony may do so by going to the Colorado General Assembly website and then to the Committees page and choose Business, Labor, and Technology. There you will see (in the upper right) a microphone symbol and the words Committee Audio, which is a link to the menu of recordings of the committees. Once you find the recording of the SB-21-087 hearing, you can listen there or download and save it on your own computer. If you open the audio file, go to the 2:56 mark on the timeline, which is where the bill testimony occurs.