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UFW applies to intervene in ag lobby lawsuit against U.S. Department of Labor seeking to lower pay  for farm workers

United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero and Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein issued the following statement after a national agribusiness lobby group sued the U.S. Department of Labor to lower pay applicable at farming operations in the United States that hire H-2A visa foreign guest workers:

The United Farm Workers—represented pro-bono by Farmworker Justice and the nationally prominent law firm of Covington & Burling LLP—is filing a request to intervene in a  Washington, D.C. federal court lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Labor filed by a national agribusiness lobbying organization aimed at letting growers across the country pay lower wages when hiring H-2A foreign guest workers. If the lawsuit succeeds, domestic U.S. farm workers laboring alongside H-2A guest workers would  suffer lower wages. Farm workers, who are already among the  lowest-paid workers in the nation, should be paid more, not less. The UFW is also mobilizing farm workers to protect the pay raises.

New 2019 wage rates for H-2A program employers are set to go into effect today, January 9.  Based on government surveys of agricultural employers, the 2019 H-2A wage rates issued for each state will increase by an average of six percent. While in a few states wage rates will decrease slightly, in most states the required wage rates will increase.  The H-2A program has been rapidly expanding; 242,000 H-2A jobs were approved in 2018.

For decades, Congress has required the Department of Labor to regulate wages in the H-2A program so growers do not discriminate against U.S. farm workers by hiring foreign workers who they could pay less and so wages in the marketplace are not depressed by the hiring of vulnerable guest workers. If today’s scheduled pay raises are frozen, as demanded in the suit filed by the National Council of Agricultural Employers, then employers could hire H-2A  foreign workers and pay both U.S. and foreign workers substandard wages, which would also drag down wages for all farm workers.

Agricultural employers can only participate in the H-2A guest worker program by claiming they cannot find qualified U.S. farm workers and by demonstrating that hiring H-2A workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers. Upon applying for permission to hire temporary foreign guest workers, the employers must provide any interested U.S. workers and the foreign workers with pay and working conditions that do not undercut the wages and working conditions of U.S. farm workers. If the lawsuit freezes the Department of Labor-required pay increases, it would also wreak havoc with the paychecks of both vulnerable guest workers and U.S. workers.

Farm workers’ wages in most states have been modestly improving over the last few years, which is a good thing. This lawsuit lacks any valid legal basis and seeks an exemption from the economic law of supply and demand so employers can hire vulnerable temporary foreign workers.

Some states where H-2A program wages are due to increase and that would be affected by a wage freeze sought by the grower lawsuit include:

California, from $13.18 to $13.92

Oregon and Washington, from $14.12 to $15.03

Texas, from $11.87 to $12.23

Georgia $10.95 to $11.13

Virginia, from to $11.46 to $12.25