The H-2A temporary agricultural program is for bringing in laborers from other countries to work in agriculture when there is no other source of employees in an area. Typically, this work is limited to “on a farm” or “by a farmer.” Cotton gins are one of only a few entities that can use the H-2A program outside of that narrow use case.
Your associations recently spent a lot of resources ensuring this concession stays in place going forward.
The H-2A program was created in 1986 to replace some older programs that tended to lead to worker abuse by various entities. During the past 30 years, workers (legal or not) were available in most areas as seasonal or year-round employees so the program was not widely used for a long time. Immigration officials largely left everyone alone.
The only people who used the program until recently were mostly fruit and vegetable farmers who needed hundreds of workers for a few weeks until they were done. Think large tomato or berry farms or tree fruit. This situation has changed dramatically as all agricultural workers have become nearly impossible to find, including gin workers — more than I ever expected.
The H-2A program is a very cumbersome and expensive source of labor. It is meant to be that way to discourage its use over hiring domestic workers. You should always hire legal U.S. workers over bringing in foreign workers. That’s the law. H-2A is also a program fraught with perils and pitfalls.
Many employers have found themselves on the wrong end of an investigation as well as experiencing harassment by worker advocates when using it. Yes, I mean to make sure you understand that the H2-A program is a last resort.
Ginners’ Associations Go To Bat
Recently, the Department of Labor began denying H-2A applications by employers in other industries for workers who drive produce or fruit trucks to the packing shed from the farm. Many of these employers had been using the program for years. We then had one such denial in the cotton industry. A custom hauler was told their work wasn’t agriculture.
Your ginners’ associations banded together and helped fight that denial all the way to court. This effort took resources from across the Cotton Belt to mount a defense, and we got what we needed to accomplish this. The judge affirmed that cotton ginning was indeed agriculture in the definition of the H-2A program and that hauling cotton to the gin was an essential service in connection with the ginning of cotton.
Here is a bit of advice. You have to plan ahead. Employers begin looking for workers in the spring for the fall. Don’t go into the program without a reputable agent/contractor to navigate the shark-infested waters and don’t go into the program half-heartedly.
It is easy to get hung on the many rules and regulations. And bad actors or perceived bad actors should not be in the program. They make it look bad and the industry look bad, too.
Your associations hope you never have to use the H-2A program. But by fighting this recent case, we hope to ensure the program is there if the labor market continues to shrink and domestic workers are impossible to find.
Dusty Findley, CEO of the Southeastern Cotton Ginners Association, contributed this article. Contact him at 706-344-1212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TCGA Interns Wrap Up Their Summer Experience
The Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association has conducted a summer intern program for the past 12 years. This year’s participants — Kalin Clark, Garrett Gallagher and Brendon Mikeska — provided their initial reports in the August issue of Cotton Farming. Here are their summary accounts upon finishing the 2019 internship activities.
Kalin Clark — Texas A&M University
The last month of my internship was spent at the United Ag Co-op in El Campo, Texas, where we prepared for the upcoming gin season. One of the tasks was to replace the doffer and flashing on the battery condenser. This required us to enter inside the drum of the condenser, which was almost like an oven in the Texas heat.
We also had to check the oil levels in all gear boxes and grease anything we were able to along with checking all fan belts. We finally got to start the gin so I could see for the first time everything I have been working on all summer in action. It was quite a sight to see cotton pouring down the Lummus 170 gin stands.
I assisted with fixing breakdowns that happened as the gin got broken in for the season. One day, the gin stand feed auger sheered, and we had to pull out the broken section and take it to the welding shop to fix so we could re-install it the next morning.
When things were running smoothly, I watched the gin stands and lint cleaners and checked for blockages and choke-ups.
I would like to give a special thanks to everyone at TCGA, Oasis Gin Inc. and United Ag Co-op. I have been treated like family by everyone, and this has been a fantastic summer.
I learned so much, which would not have been possible without a great support system. I hope to graduate this December, hopefully find a job in the cotton industry and see these great people again!
Garrett Gallagher — Texas A&M University
I have really enjoyed my past few weeks as an intern with the Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association. I had the opportunity to visit the Corpus Christi U.S. Department of Agriculture classing office where I saw how the USDA goes about classing every sample they get.
We began ginning July 29, and it seemed there was a new experience every day. I worked just about every position in the gin. This helped me better understand the amount of teamwork needed for a gin to operate efficiently.
My favorite position was working alongside the ginner as a ginner’s helper. While working in this position, I learned how to speed up and slow down the gin stands, make sure they were being fed evenly, and speed up or slow down the gin based on the quality of the cotton being fed into the module feeder.
I also experienced the “joys” of several choke-ups and how ginners determine what caused them and how to fix the situation.
Working in a cotton gin is not for the weak-minded. After participating in this internship, I have great respect for those who put in long hours every year to gin our nation’s cotton.
I really enjoyed this internship and would like to thank Aaron Nelsen and the Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association for allowing me to have this great experience. It gave me the opportunity to make many connections I never would have thought possible before!
I would also like to thank Guyle Roberson, his two superintendents — Joe Richards and Gilbert Zapata — Curtis Hard, and everyone at Texas Producers Co-op for getting me up to speed on the ginning industry and the warm West Texas hospitality.
Finally, I thank Sid Brough, his two superintendents — Hector and Jesse Cruz — Daniel Luehrs, and everyone at Edcot Co-op Gin in Odem, Texas, for all the different experiences you allowed me to be a part of while in South Texas. I greatly appreciate the knowledge that everyone shared with me this past summer!
Brendon Mikeska — Texas Tech University
I have enjoyed this internship very much. I was put in a position where I met a lot of good contacts in the gin business, and I am very appreciative for this opportunity.
After finishing the repairs, we started ginning. We had a little trouble with the press at the beginning, but we were able to diagnose the problem as the box unlatch limit switches. After fixing this issue, we ran steady until the end of my time at Coastal Plains Cotton Co.
I really enjoyed my internship and would highly recommend any student who wants to either learn about the industry or would like a career within the industry to pursue this program. Once again, thank you to Jerry Butman, John Steelhammer and Aaron Nelsen for giving me this opportunity.
TCGA contributed this information.