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The United Farm Workers Are One Of Two Groups That File A Federal Lawsuit Against The Department Of Labor’s ‘Decision To Freeze Wages’ Under The H-2A Agricultural Guest Worker Program

Published Friday, December 4, 2020
by FarmWorkerJustice.org
The United Farm Workers Are One Of Two Groups That File A Federal Lawsuit Against The Department Of Labor’s ‘Decision To Freeze Wages’ Under The H-2A Agricultural Guest Worker Program

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – The United Farm Workers (UFW) Union and the UFW Foundation, represented by Farmworker Justice and the Law Firm WilmerHale, have filed a Federal lawsuit challenging the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) decision to slash wages under the H-2A Agricultural Guest Worker Program.

The case challenges the DOL’s issuance on November 5th of a new regulation that undermines wage protection for U.S. and Temporary Foreign Workers under the H-2A Program.

The lawsuit requests a preliminary injunction to stop the regulation from taking effect on December 21st and a permanent injunction seeking to have the rule set aside

The lawsuit was filed in Federal Court in Fresno, California.

The DOL’s announcement of the new regulation stated that – nationwide, Farm Workers would experience wage losses averaging $170 million per year over 10 years.

The H-2A Agricultural Guest Worker Program, which allows employers to hire Foreign Workers on Temporary Visas for seasonal jobs, has been expanding rapidly in recent years

In Fiscal Year 2020, the DOL approved over 275,000 H-2A positions and more than 200,000 foreign citizens received H-2A Visas in 2019.

The H-2A Law prohibits the DOL from approving employers’ applications for Guest Workers if the wage rates offered would “adversely affect” the job opportunities or wage rates of U.S. Farm Workers.

The principal H-2A wage protection is the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR), which DOL sets for each state based on regional average hourly wage rates for Field and Livestock Workers combined, as determined by the USDA Farm Labor Survey (FLS). 

This minimum wage applies to both Foreign and Domestic Farm Workers working for H-2A employers.

The DOL has been using the FLS to set AEWRs for decades because it is a measure of the current market rate wage for Farm Workers. 

The 2020 AEWRS vary by state, averaging $13.99 per hour.

The new regulation would freeze wages for 2021 and 2022 at the 2020 AEWRs (which are based on 2019 FLS wage data). 

In 2023 and later years, DOL would adjust the 2020 rates by using DOL’s more general Employment Cost Index (ECI) instead of the FLS.  

The DOL acknowledged that ECI, a broad measure of labor wages that excludes agriculture, has been rising more slowly than Farm Workers’ wages.

To Continue Reading This Labor News Story, Go To: www.farmworkerjustice.org/news-article/farmworker-groups-file-federal-lawsuit-against-u-s-department-of-labors-decision-to-freeze-wages-under-the-h-2a-agricultural-guestworker-program/

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