For the Week Ending May 7, 2021

May 7, 2021

LAWMAKERS SEEK LEVEL PLAYING FIELD FOR U.S. PORK PRODUCERS IN VIETNAM
More than 70 U.S. lawmakers sent a letter on Wednesday to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, seeking her support for enhanced Vietnamese market access for U.S. pork. Vietnam’s domestic pork production industry is struggling with African swine fever, yet unwarranted tariff and non-tariff barriers restrict the United States from supplying this major pork-consuming nation with affordable, high-quality pork, explained the letter to Tai, led by Reps. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), Darin LaHood (R-Ill.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.) and Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.). “Domestic pork producers need a level playing field to compete in this critical market, particularly after being devastated by trade retaliation and the global pandemic,” the letter noted. “We thank Rep. Kind and the more than 70 other lawmakers for their support of one of our top trade priorities and recognizing the tremendous market opportunity that Vietnam represents to U.S. pork producers,” Howard “AV” Roth, a hog farmer from Wauzeka, Wis., and immediate past president of NPPC, said in a press release issued by Rep. Kind. Read the full NPPC press release here

HOUSE LAWMAKERS EXPRESS OPPOSITION TO TAX INCREASE PAY-FORS 
More than 130 Republican House members sent a letter to leadership on Wednesday, opposing to the use of two tax provisions—the elimination of stepped-up basis allowances from the tax code and capital gains taxes at death—which could be offered as pay-fors under President Biden’s “American Families Plan” proposal. “A recent EY study found that these two changes to the tax code had the potential to reduce wages by $32 for every $100 in new taxes collected, and to eliminate 80,000 jobs per year right now, and up to 100,000 per year by 2030,” the letter explained. “We agree 21st century transportation networks, utilities, and broadband are vital to economic growth as we rebuild our economy and get Americans back to work. We also believe repealing stepped-up basis and taxing capital gains at death would be counterproductive to these goals. We oppose their inclusion in any legislation, and we look forward to working with you on ways to responsibly fund the improvements needed to ensure America’s farms, ranches, and small businesses fully benefit and can continue serving their customers here and around the world,” the lawmakers wrote. Last week, USDA clarified that Biden’s policy proposal specifically exempts farm operations from this new capital gains tax, as long as the farm remains family owned and operated. A copy of the lawmakers’ letter is available here.  

NPPC URGES MASSACHUSETTS TO ALTER, DELAY RESTRICTIVE PORK PRODUCTION INITIATIVE
On Monday, NPPC filed comments on two Massachusetts bills related to Question 3, a 2016 ballot initiative which prohibits the sale of pork produced using certain production methods. In many ways, Question 3 is substantially similar to Proposition 12, a California ballot initiative which passed in 2018. The Massachusetts initiative is set to begin on Jan. 1, 2022, but first requires the commonwealth’s attorney general to draft implementation rules—which have not been completed. In its comments on S. 36 and H. 864, NPPC said it supports language that would place the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources in charge of promulgating Question 3 regulations. Currently, the attorney general’s office has exclusive jurisdiction. Additionally, while not included in the bills, NPPC is urging for Question 3’s implementation date to be delayed by two years, to Jan. 1, 2024.  “Meeting the requirements of Question 3 is difficult enough to do in normal conditions, requiring significant investments of labor and capital, as farmers must convert to a compliant system in order to meet Question 3’s requirements. The time and cost of this challenge has been exacerbated over the last two years as the industry struggles to overcome the challenges – both to our workers and to the marketplaces for pigs and pork – caused by COVID-19,” NPPC wrote. A copy of NPPC’s comments is here.  

DEPARTMENT OF LABOR WITHDRAWS TRUMP INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR RULE
On Wednesday, the Department of Labor withdrew a rule published in the final days of the Trump Administration regarding independent contractors. The rule more easily allowed for employers to classify their labor as contracted through the use of a modified economic realities test. The Department of Labor explained the rule was withdrawn out of concern that the modified test “would have undermined the longstanding balancing approach of the economic realities test and court decisions requiring a review of the totality of the circumstances related to the employment relationship.” While no new rule has been proposed, there is significant concern that the agency responsible – the Wage and Hour Division – will want to move towards the use of an ABC test – which President Biden has endorsed. If implemented, the federally used test would mirror what is used by California under AB5, vastly reducing the number of workers qualifying as independent contractors. To read more about the rule withdrawal, click here

HOUSE LABOR COMMITTEE HOLDS HEARING ON FARM LABOR AND OVERTIME
On Monday, the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Worker Protections held a hearing to discuss numerous proposals relating to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). On the panel were representatives of labor advocacy groups, including Teresa Romero, president of United Farm Workers. In discussions including the minimum wage, committee members focused on the farm workforce’s exemption from FLSA-mandated overtime pay. Committee Republicans argued to maintain the exemption, focused on concerns with smaller producers’ inability to financially comply, while Democrats reiterated the need for overtime pay and their support for Rep. Raúl Grijalva’s (D-Ariz.) Fairness for Farm Workers Act. The bill, likely to be reintroduced next week, would phase in overtime pay for farm labor depending on the size of an operation. To watch the subcommittee hearing, click here. To learn more about the previous version of the Fairness for Farm Workers Act, click here

WHAT’S AHEAD? 

On Monday, May 10, the Senate Agriculture Committee will vote on the nomination of Jewel Bronaugh as deputy USDA secretary. She is currently Virginia’s agriculture commissioner and previously was the Virginia state executive director for USDA’s Farm Service Agency. The vote, scheduled for 5:30pm ET, will be webcast here.