January 23, 2020

Rep. Newhouse, Sec. Vilsack Discuss West Coast Labor Dispute

During the discussion portion of today’s House Agriculture Committee hearing to review the state of the rural economy, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R., Wash.) had a discussion with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack about the labor dispute at the West Coast ports that is harming agriculture exports and rural economies across the country.

A video replay of that conversation, as well as a transcript of a portion of remarks by Rep. Newhouse are available below.

Rep. Newhouse: Let me agree with one of your earlier statements. Our American farmers are some of the best farmers in the world, producing some of the best products in the world, which I’ve had the honor and privilege to represent in different venues, and I agree with that statement, and it truly is a privilege to represent agriculture in the United States of America.

Having said that, let me add to what some of my other colleagues are talking about as far as the labor dispute we are experiencing on the West Coast ports. Being from the state of Washington, this is a huge issue for us. You know, if we can produce the best products and can’t get them to our markets, what good is that? And just to personalize this a little bit, some of my friends, my farmer friends, are experiencing potential bankruptcies because of the slowdown at the ports, because of the labor disputes.

We are seeing, as you know, in Washington state we have a record apple crop this year, which we had plenty of challenges marketing, even without the labor problems. So that’s causing a huge upheaval in the apple industry. We’re seeing layoffs of people at warehouses, so loss of jobs. I’m seeing a tremendous loss in opportunities when it comes to marketing those applies in Asia and some of our primary markets.

We just can’t get the fruit there at particular times like the Chinese New Year, which is a huge marketing window for us we’re losing. Just daily I’m hearing stories about the hardships people are facing. Organic poultry producers are unable to get organic feed grains to…and are at the risk of losing their certification. So just huge implications all up and down the agricultural sector.

As you know, Washington state is very—I hate to use the word dependent—but we are very involved in exports. At least 30% of our crops are exported, but on some commodities it’s upwards of 90%, when you’re talking about hops or wheat. Potatoes, 40%. It’s a huge part of our economy.

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