SB 100: Farm Labor Contracting - State License Requirement - Repeal

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.

SB 100 would repeal the requirement that an individual, except under specified circumstances, be licensed by the Commission of Labor and Industry before performing a farm labor contracting service in the State for consideration. Additionally, the legislation would repeal a provision of the law authorizing the Commissioner to require a farm labor contractor to post a surety bond or other security, but maintains the requirement for a person who performs a farm labor contracting service in the State to have a farm labor contractor certificate of registration from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The Church teaches us that immigrants have a right to migrate to other countries to find work so they and their families can survive. The Church also teaches us that countries are sovereign and have the right to protect and govern their borders. However, countries with great economic and political strength, such as the United States, have the additional responsibility to promote the common good within the scope of its resources and to be in solidarity with all those who are vulnerable.

While seemingly harmless, SB 100 would be a significant step backwards for both Maryland and immigrants who are awarded visas to work under farm labor contractors. Repealing the state licensing requirement for farm labor contractors removes the state’s ability to have any recourse in denying, suspending, or revoking a farm labor contracting license for an employer who abuses and/or exploits workers. A practical implication of this is that a contractor could conduct business in multiple states, exploit his/her employees in other states, and Maryland would not be able to deny a license to this contractor because only the U.S. Department of Labor would have that power.

While the legislation maintains the ability for the state to impose civil penalties on contractors, the contractors could still operate their businesses after paying the costs of those penalties, thus leaving workers largely unprotected and forcing them to rely solely on the federal government to have any recourse with farm labor contractors. For example, a contractor could fail to meet the housing, sanitation, or safety standards for migrant agricultural workers as set by Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and still operate his/her business as long as s/he did not violate federal housing, sanitation, or safety standards. Meanwhile, workers would still be living and working in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, and the contractor would still have a license to operate his/her business in the state.

Furthermore, Maryland would lose the ability to add requirements for farm labor contractors to make the program as safe and just as possible, and be limited in its ability to easily collect and disseminate information about farm labor contractors in the state outside of a federal database.

The fiscal note for this legislation indicates that fewer than eight contractors have been awarded a state license in each of the last five years. The Conference believes that the low prevalence of licenses is no reason to repeal the requirement, but should rather be an incentive to do outreach to ensure that all eligible farm labor contractors operating in the state have the state license, thus affording workers the protections that go beyond safeguards under the U.S. Department of Labor. The fiscal note also observes that Maryland is one of ten states that has a state licensing requirement; instead of repealing the licensing requirement the Conference recommends performing a comparative analysis of the states that do and do not have a state licensing requirement for farm labor contractors to determine the effects of state licensure or the lack of state licensure on the states and on workers.

Above all, it is important to remember that, “Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women, and men who leave or are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more” (Pope Francis, Message for the 2014 World Day of Migrants and Refugees). We share a responsibility to respect and protect our immigrant brothers and sisters, yet SB 100 removes protections from them. Therefore, the Conference believes that it is not in the best interests of the state to remove the state licensing requirement for farm labor contracting.

The Conference appreciates your consideration and urges you to oppose SB 100.