U.S. farm workers will receive pay increases averaging more than 5 percent as a result of twin victories late last year in Fresno federal court by the United Farm Workers and UFW Foundation that stopped the Donald Trump administration from slashing the pay of both H-2A guest farm workers and domestic field laborers. Without those court rulings, Trump’s actions in the closing weeks of his presidency would have amounted to a massive transfer of wealth from farm workers to agricultural employers comprising hundreds of millions of dollars a year. WilmerHale Law Firm and Farmworker Justice attorneys were fundamental to the victories by providing pro bono counsel.
One lawsuit reversed the suspension by Trump’s U.S. Department of Agriculture of the biannual Farm Labor Report that sets minimum wages for H-2A foreign guest workers and also heavily impacts pay for domestic workers who often labor at the same companies or in the same farming areas. Because of the UFW and UFW Foundation’s successful court challenges—plus action by the new Biden administration—farm worker pay for both domestic and foreign agricultural workers without the survey would have been cut by more than five percent in California, up to 27 percent in Oregon and 46 percent in Idaho.
Some highlights of farm worker pay increases under The Farm Labor Report released by the USDA on February 11, 2021 (Page 25) follow by state:
California—from $14.77 per hour to $16.05 per hour (highest increase in the U.S.)
Washington state, Oregon—from $15.83 to 16.34 (highest wage in the country)
New York—$14.65 to $15.29
North Carolina, Virginia—$12.67 to $13.15
Florida—$11.71 to $12.08
Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama—$11.71 to $11.81 (lowest wage in the nation)
Idaho, Montana, Wyoming—$13.62 to $14.55
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s publishing this month of the annual survey ended the Trump administration attempt to freeze wages for farm workers in 2021 and 2022. That move, which would have transferred $170 million a year from farm workers to growers for each of the following ten years, was thwarted by the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Fresno by the UFW and UFW Foundation.
“Donald Trump did not get away with slashing pay for all farm workers, which in some states would have meant cutting wages by up to a quarter,” said United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero. She pointed out that Trump would have personally benefited from this policy change by paying less to workers at his Virginia vineyards.
“The Trump administration unsuccessfully tried to transfer wealth from farm workers to the agricultural industry in an effort to further impair the lives of the men and women who feed all of us,” added Diana Tellefson Torres, executive director of the UFW Foundation. “All this was happening in the middle of a pandemic that is already devastating rural farm worker communities.”