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Lawsuit says Trump administration tries to cut farm wages

In Michigan, wages could fall to $9.65 an hour from the current $14.40.

Agricultural guestworkers will see sharply lower wages because of the USDA’s decision to cancel a semiannual survey that is used to calculate their pay, said a lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal district court in Fresno, California. The lawsuit, filed by the United Farm Workers union and the UFW Foundation, asks the court to order the USDA to carry out the October survey and publish the results, as usual, in November so that the Labor Department can use them in setting minimum wages for the country’s 250,000 or more H-2A guestworkers.

UFW president Teresa Romero said pay rates for domestic farmworkers were sure to fall if what’s known as the adverse effect wage rate (AEWR) for guestworkers was cut. “How can Donald Trump justify slashing pay for all farmworkers in the United States, which means cutting wages by up to a quarter or a half in some states?” asked Romero. She said Trump would benefit personally because he has fieldworkers at his vineyards in Virginia.

Without the USDA data, the Labor Department could set the agricultural wage rate at the state or federal minimum wage if there is no collective bargaining wage or a local survey of the prevailing wage for agricultural labor, said the advocacy group Farmworker Justice. The USDA’s Farm Labor report of wages for field and livestock workers is used to determine the AEWR for each state. In comparing various pay rates, the AEWR is usually the highest. The Labor Department requires employers to pay guestworkers at the highest known minimum wage in their area.

As an example, said Farmworker Justice, the AEWR in Georgia, where many guestworkers are employed, is $14.77 an hour but could drop to $7.25 an hour. In Michigan, wages could fall to $9.65 an hour from the current $14.40.

Cancellation of the Farm Labor Survey, which has been conducted for more than 100 years, amounted to “an end run around changing the H-2A regulations in a cruel effort to slash farmworkers’ wages,” said Bruce Goldstein, head of Farmworker Justice.

Asked why the USDA canceled the survey, a spokeswoman said, “USDA has determined the public can access other data points for the data collected in the Agricultural Labor Survey.”

A FERN story about the impact on farmworkers from cancellation of the wage survey and other Trump administration proposals to reduce protections for guestworkers is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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