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Saturday, July 16, 2011 at 10:26 am

Meeting in DC on farm labor issues may lead to promising results, says participants

post by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, kathy hochul, Torrey Farms

Genesee County's farms are facing some of the same difficulties hitting farmers across the nation -- a combination of increased use of E-verify, bureaucratic difficulties with H-2A visas, a dwindling supply of immigrant labor and few U.S. citizens willing to do the work, making it difficult to bring crops in on time.

The confluence of events led to an unusual meeting in Washington, D.C., this past week, organized for Rep. Lois Slaughter (D-Fairport), with participation from Rep. Kathy Hochul and one of Genesee County's farmers, Maureen Torrey.

Torrey, owner of Torrey Farms, said the meeting was the first time high-level representatives of the U.S. Department of Labor, congressional representatives and famers have been able to sit down and discuss immigration issues.

The meeting lasted longer than planned, going two hours.

"Some of the old-timers there were surprised at some of the responses that we got," Torrey said. "We do think maybe there might be some improvement."

Hochul also said the meeting was productive and a unique opportunity to bring together two sides -- the DOL and farmers -- who are historically adversarial. 

"There is so much bureaucratic red tape it that it becomes a challenge for the farmers to get the workers they need," Hochul said. "These are people who are playing by the rules and they deserve all the help they can get from the government."

Torrey said the way the H-2A visa program is handled can really jeopardize the ability of farmers to harvest crops at the right time.

For example, she said, apples need to be picked on just the right day and pickers need to be experienced at recognizing the right color and firmness to pick apples at the right time, as well as be able to handle them properly to avoid damaging the fruit.

U.S. citizens, Torrey said, typically don't want the jobs and they lack the experience and training necessary to do the job properly.

Farmers want to be able bring back the same workers year after year to ensure they have the best labor force.

H-2A visas can be held up for a variety of reasons -- mistakes in the multiple pages of paperwork, a barely missed deadline, or a bureaucrat snafu can delay approval past harvest time.

Torrey said that a farmer might submit a batch of applications, have one disapproved and then face getting the entire batch rejected if she appeals just the one disapproval.

Hochul said the situation is just unacceptable.

"Some of the fields can’t be brought to market in time because they don't have enough popele to harvest the crops," Hochul said.

While the H-2A program requires that farmers first seek qualified labor among U.S. citizens, Torrey said few American ever respond to the required job listings.

In states such as Georgia, Florida and Alabama, where state legislatures have mandated use of a program called E-verify to check the legal status of workers, crops have been left to rot in the fields because there's been no workers available.

Torrey said even the DOL admits there are only about 50,000 qualified legal agricultural workers in the United States, but the annual demand is for 900,000 to one million workers.

Torrey said even Darien Lake Theme Park has trouble filling all of its season worker positions with citizen workers. The park hires about 300 foreign students  on J-1 visas.

"If Darien Lake needs 300 people on J-1 visas, it just shows you there are not enough people to take these jobs," Torrey said. "And that's fun work compared to working in a field."

Until there is a sustainable guest worker program, Torrey said, farmers are going to struggle to fill positions at harvest time.

A guest worker program has been under negotiation for 16 years, Torrey said, and while it wasn't the topic of the meeting organized by Slaughter, Torrey did attend a meeting on the subject while in D.C.

Meanwhile, according to a recent story in  The New York Times, the immigrant labor pool from Mexico is drying up. As economic and educational opportunities improve in Mexico, and the Baby Boom population that fueled the big illegal immigration moves in previous decades is getting older, there are fewer workers willing to take the risk of coming to America for work.

It's all of these forces pushing down the labor pool that made the meetings in Washington so important, Torrey said, and why she's glad they seemed so productive.

"It was really positive," Torrey said. "It is not only going to help Genesee County, but it's going to help farmers all across the country who are having the same issues, so our peers were really happy these meetings took place."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Hochul resisting pressure from Obama Administration to back new free trade deals

post by Howard B. Owens in free trade, kathy hochul

The Obama Administration is stepping up pressure on Congress to pass new free trade agreements, but Rep. Kathy Hochul (NY-26), elected to represent WNY in a special election a month ago, says she will stand by her campaign promise to vote against the proposed treaties.

In response to a question from The Batavian, her congressional spokesman, Fabien Levy, sent the follow message:

She still remains very opposed to all of the free trade agreements. I remember that during the campaign she went beyond your question on one free trade deal and answered it on all the free trade deals.  

Here's the question and answer Levy mentions:

Q: The next representative of the NY-26 is likely going to be asked on vote on the South Korea – United States Free Trade Agreement. If elected, will you vote “Yes” or “No.” After offering a straight up or down answer, please explain your yes or no vote.

A: No, I do not support the U.S./South Korea Free Trade Agreement. I also do not support the U.S./Panama or the U.S./Colombia Free Trade Agreements.

Millions of hard-working Americans have lost their jobs due to unfair trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA and entering into additional free trade agreements will only further harm our economy. Instead of expanding trade policies that have resulted in thousands of good paying Western New York jobs being sent overseas, we need to focus on creating an environment that gives smalls businesses the opportunity to innovate and grow, right here in the 26th District.

Hochul's opponent, Jane Corwin, took a far less solid stand on trade issues, but did say during a campaign appearance in Batavia that she supported "fair trade" and wasn't a "protectionist."

Trade arguably played an important role in Hochul winning the election. Polls seem to indicate that voters switched support for the outspoken anti-free trade candidate Jack Davis to Hochul, rather than Corwin, in the final week of the election.

Related to Hochul's position on free trade last week, the newly minted representative supported measures to crack down on currency manipulation by China.

(Photo: file photo)

A full press release from Hochul's office on that issue after the jump.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Hochul supports legislation to create federal oversight of theme park rides

post by Howard B. Owens in darien lake theme park, kathy hochul

Upon a request from The Batavian, Congresswoman Kathy Hochul provided this statement on proposed legislation to increase federal oversign of rides at theme parks.

“The accident at Darien Lake was not only a tragedy because we lost a war hero, but because it reminded us that current loopholes in our laws can jeopardize the safety of patrons at fixed site amusement parks. Permanent theme parks should not be exempt from federal safety oversight, which is why I plan to work with Congressman Ed Markey (MA-7) to co-sponsor legislation that will ensure the Consumer Product Safety Commission has the ability to oversee amusement park rides.”

Rep. Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, who pushing such legislation prior to the accident, has revived his proposal following the death Friday of disabled Iraq War James Hackemer on a rollercoaster at Darien Lake Theme Park.

Thursday, July 7, 2011 at 10:17 pm

Keeping pledge first made in Batavia, Hochul votes to reduce funding to Pakistan

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, foreign affairs, kathy hochul, NY-26, pakistan

When Kathy Hochul made a campaign appearance in Batavia at the YWCA, I asked her about Genesee County's deteriorating infrastructure and what could be done about it at a federal level.

Hochul started by expressing concern about a problem that she sees across Western New York, with pot-holed roads and rusting bridges. As she spoke, it was almost as if the thought occurred to her on the fly -- why are we spending billions building roads in Pakistan when we have so needs here at home.

She picked up the theme in subsequent debates and appearances.

Today, Hochul's congressional office announced that she's kept her campaign promise, voting to reduce aid to Pakistan.

Press release:

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congresswoman Kathy Hochul voted in favor of Republican Congressman Ted Poe’s (TX-2) amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, which would cut funding to Pakistan by $1 billion. 

“Today’s votes were about priorities,” said Congresswoman Hochul.  “Would we rather spend a billion dollars in Pakistan or spend that money right here at home? I know the people of the 26th District would much rather have that money invested in infrastructure, education, and job creation right here in the United States, rather than in the country that hid Osama bin Laden.”

Since being sworn in last month, one of Congresswoman Hochul’s top priorities has been cutting spending and reducing our deficit. In addition to cutting funding to Pakistan, Congresswoman Hochul today voted to cut $675 million from infrastructure in Afghanistan, citing the need to improve infrastructure in our own communities.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Hochul represents WNY in Beltway softball game

post by Howard B. Owens in kathy hochul

On June 19, newly minted NY-26 Rep. Kathy Hochul attended the Batavia Muckdogs game at Dwyer Stadium. It's the kind of thing that I'd normally cover with a picture, but it was Father's Day and my birthday so I took my Dad to the game. I didn't take my camera. It was time off. Still, it was nice chatting with Kathy and Bill Hochul. Kathy went to the game to get herself mentally ready to play on the Women's Congressional Softball Team in a match against an inside-the-Beltway media team in a charity game. I asked her press aide Fabien Levy to send along a picture from the game.  

Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Hochul announces $1.3 million in funding for county airport

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, Genesee County Airport, kathy hochul

Press release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Kathy Hochul today announced that Genesee County Airport will receive nearly $1.3 million in funding for its apron expansion, which will provide greater and safer aircraft movement, as well as aircraft parking at the airport.

“This is great news for both the Genesee County Airport, as well as all the aircrafts that travel through here,” said Congresswoman Hochul. “This funding will help the airport rehabilitate aprons, as well as enhance and expand the safety of aprons.”

The viability of the airport is important as it houses a State Police helicopter, numerous crop-dusting planes, and a medical helicopter used to transport victims in emergencies.

The airport is also used for training by the Army National Guard.

Friday, June 3, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Hochul appointed to Homeland Security Committee

post by Howard B. Owens in kathy hochul, NY-26

Press release:

Washington, D.C. – Today, Representative Kathy Hochul (D-NY26) announced that she will serve on the House Committee on Homeland Security in the 112th Congress.

“I look forward to working hard for the people of the 26th District as a Member of the House Committee on Homeland Security,” said Congresswoman Hochul. “As a Representative of a district right by the border, issues of homeland security greatly impact the people of my district and I will work tirelessly to ensure their safety.”

Congresswoman Hochul began her work immediately, meeting with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, where the two discussed national security issues facing our nation and discussed international trade and travel across the Peace Bridge in Buffalo.

Congresswoman Hochul has already voted on issues of vital importance to our homeland security. She voted against H.R. 2017, FY 2012 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill, which makes more than a billion dollars in cuts to critical local and national security programs.

Instead of cutting funding to programs that protect Western New Yorkers, Congresswoman Hochul supported the Clarke-Higgins-Reichert-Tonko Amendment to reform the Urban Area Security Initiative so that Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse would continue to be eligible for funds that prevent, protect and safeguard these cities against terrorist attacks.  Prior to the passage of this amendment, the bill would have restricted funding to only 10 cities.

Congresswoman Hochul recognizes that we must be vigilant in our efforts to protect our communities and borders against terrorists.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 9:35 pm

Area Democratic leaders join Kathy Hochul in DC for swearing in as NY-26 rep

post by Howard B. Owens in kathy hochul, Lorie Longhany, NY-26

Kathy Hochul, who won a special election last week to become the congresswoman representing the NY-26, was sworn today.

In Washington, D.C., for the ceremony were the chairs of the Democratic committees of the GLOW region (Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming counties).

Genesee County's Lorie Longhany (second from right) supplied this picture from the capitol.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 10:00 am

Corwin comes out on top in Genesee County

post by Howard B. Owens in Ian Murphy, Jack Davis, Jane Corwin, kathy hochul, NY-26

While Kathy Hochul won the race for the NY-26 seat, Jane Corwin was favored in Genesee County.

Corwin picked up 44.2 percent of the vote to Hochul's 39.2.

Jack Davis, who garnered only 9 percent of the vote throughout the rest of the district, picked up 14.5 percent in Genesee County.

Here are the final vote totals.

Total ballots: 8,247

Corwin: 3648 -- 44.2 percent

Hochul: 3239 -- 39.2 percent

Davis: 1195 -- 14.5 percent

Murphy: 100 -- .012 percent

Write-in: 43

Blank: 22

These are unofficial numbers and they may not yet include absentee counts.

We don't have the turnout percentage yet.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Hochul declared winner, Corwn concedes, in NY-26 special election

post by Howard B. Owens in Ian Murphy, Jack Davis, Jane Corwin, kathy hochul, NY-26

Even before the Genesee County vote has been counted, the Buffalo News, along with other media outlets, have declared the race for Kathy Hochul.

According to the Buffalo paper's numbers, with 87 percent of the precincts reporting, Hochul has 48 percent of the vote to Corwin's 42 percent. Jack Davis picked up 9 percent and Ian Murphy 1 percent.

Corwin conceded the race shortly after 10 p.m.

It's unclear what will become of the court order Corwin obtained earlier today barring certification of the election results before a court appearance on Thursday.

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