Amid the continued coverage of the election, the Department of Labor (DOL) published a final rule that will transfer approximately $170 million in projected wages per year from workers to employers, according to the agency’s own analysis, The Counter reports. The verbiage used in the ruling specifies a “transfer payments” of an estimated $1.68 billion over 10 years, essentially transferring the money that would go toward their wages to the employers to allegedly provide more stability to the industry. As a result, from 2021 through 2022, DOL will freeze minimum wages for over 200,000 seasonal farmworkers participating in the H-2A visa program, many of which come from Mexico
“Why would the Trump administration target farmworkers with wage cuts in the middle of a pandemic, when other essential workers are winning hazard pay?” United Farm Workers wrote in a statement asking for support. “Instead of lowering wages for the poorest workers, we need to ensure that some of the $9.5 billion allocated for COVID-19 aid will protect the vulnerable, essential workers who are out in the fields in this pandemic to keep the food supply intact.”
Last month, the Department of Agriculture announced that it would cut the upcoming farm labor survey, which the DOL relies on to set minimum wages for H-2A workers. Labor advocates sued, and a federal judge last week blocked the move, however with the DOL’s new ruling on wages, it will no longer rely on the survey.
Starting in 2023, it will then determine future wage increases through the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ employment cost index, which, according to DOL, will increase wages at a lower rate. The survey is not liked by the agriculture industry because it’s typically led to pay rates above those set by local minimum wage laws, reported the Huffington Post. This year the prevailing wage rates range from $11 to $16 an hour, whereas most state minimum wages are well below that, and the federal minimum wage is still just $7.25 an hour, according to the publication. In 2019 farmworkers earned $13.99 per hour, which is only three-fifths of what production and nonsupervisory workers outside of agriculture earned, according to the Working Economics Blog. They earned less than what workers with the lowest levels of education in the U.S. labor market earned, according to the publication.
Bruce Goldstein, president of the advocacy group, Farmworker Justice, told Huffington Post that the incoming Biden administration could reverse the ruling, but it would take a long time to work through the federal rulemaking process. The DOL’s final rule set to take effect on December 21 of this year and will likely impact farmworkers at least through 2021
“This is absolutely a wage cut for migrants who are H-2A farmworkers,” Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute, said in a statement. “H-2A farmworkers will not benefit from any natural wage growth that occurs [until 2023] ― during what farm owners are saying is a severe labor shortage, which is exactly when you would expect wages to grow in a free market.”