Farm workers could lose $170 million in wages from a new Trump administration rule.
“While most people in the country were focused on counting votes last week, the U.S. Department of Labor published some controversial new rules dealing with farm labor.
The rules apply specifically to workers like Celso Gonzalez. His home is in the Mexican state of Hildalgo, where work is hard to find because of the pandemic, he says. If he did manage to find work, he might make the equivalent of $7 a day.
Instead, he’s working in the fields of North Carolina. Tobacco and sweet potato farmers there arranged for him to get a special H-2A visa for seasonal agricultural workers. More than 200,000 such workers came to the U.S. this year, and the number is growing.
By law, workers like Gonzalez aren’t supposed to take jobs away from U.S. workers, or undercut their wages. So the government carries out a survey of farm employers to see what they are paying similar U.S. workers, and then calculates an hourly wage for H-2A workers that will avoid any “adverse effect” on U.S. workers. In North Carolina, that rate is $12.67 an hour. It’s about dollar less in Florida, and two dollars more in California.
That rate has been going up faster than inflation in recent years, because there’s a shortage of farm workers, and some employers have been complaining about those wage increases.
In recent weeks, the Trump Administration stepped in with some changes to the program.
First, it abruptly cancelled the survey of farm wages that has been used to calculate those minimum wages. Justin Flores, vice president of a union group called the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, which represents some H-2A workers, had an idea of what was coming. ‘My first thought was, the Trump Administration is coming after our members’ wages and financial well-being,’ he says.
Then, last week, the administration announced a new regulation that freezes the wages for H-2A workers at this year’s level for the next two years. Starting in 2023, according to the new rule, wages for H-2A workers will be tied to an national index of worker pay that’s generally been rising more slowly than farm worker wages.
The administration estimates that the change will result in farm workers earning about $170 million less in wages each year.
Diana Tellefson Torres, executive director of the United Farm Workers Foundation, calls the move ‘reprehensible.’
‘Farm workers should be paid more, not less, especially as they work under the conditions that we’re seeing during this pandemic,’ Tellefson Torres says. The UFW also argues that paying cut-rate wages for foreign workers will undermine wages for U.S. farm workers as well.”
For the rest of the story, visit NPR here.