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Colbert testimony grabs spotlight in Congress on AgJOBS hearing

by Joan Murphy | September 28, 2010
WASHINGTON -- Comedian Stephen Colbert grabbed the headlines Sept. 24 after he testified -- in character -- at a House of Representatives subcommittee hearing on immigrant agricultural workers.

Mr. Colbert was invited to testify by subcommittee Chairman Zoe Lofgren (D- CA), both of whom picked beans and packed corn during a 10-hour stint in upstate New York under the United Farm Workers of America's Take Our Jobs initiative that invites Americans to work in agricultural jobs.

After his experience as a farmworker, Mr. Colbert said, "Please don't make me do it again. It's really, really hard." The Comedy Central host joked that the "obvious answer is for all of us to stop eating fruits and vegetables -- and if you look at the recent obesity statistics, you'll see that many Americans have already started."

The hearing swung from Mr. Colbert's stand-up comedy act to a serious probe into the issue of creating a legal workforce for agricultural businesses. Carol Swain, a professor at Vanderbilt University, criticized the Take Our Jobs initiative as a publicity stunt, saying, "America cannot continue to bring in low-skilled guest workers to compete with its most vulnerable citizens: poor whites, blacks and legal Hispanics."

Since June 24, UFW President Arturo Rodriguez said that its Take Our Jobs initiative has received 8,600 inquiries for information through its web site but that only seven people have accepted jobs or have been trained for agriculture positions.

"Unfortunately, seven new farmworkers are not enough to make our food supply stable, reliable and of high quality," he said.

Phil Glaize, a third-generation Virginia farmer with Glaize Orchards, testified that apple growers in the Northeast had a near-disaster when the State Department made a last-minute ruling putting the application of hundreds of Jamaican workers in jeopardy just days before the harvest was to begin.

"Members of Congress intervened, and the workers arrived on time, but just a few more days of inaction could have meant losses estimated at $95 million for affected growers," said Mr. Glaize, who is former chairman of the U.S. Apple Association.

"A common-sense approach is needed both to reform the H-2A program and find a way to retain long-term valued employees," he said, urging Congress to pass the AgJOBS bill. "If the U.S. apple industry were to go out of business, the Chinese are ready to step in and supply our apples."