Industry groups welcome H-2A wage changes

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Industry groups welcome H-2A wage changes

U.S. farming industry organizations have welcomed this week's announcement by the Department of Labor that a final rule that will allow farms that use H-2A workers to pay lower wages.

In a sweeping overhaul of the guestworker program, the Department said it is changing the methodology for determining the program's annual Adverse Effect Wage Rates (AEWRs). 

For the vast majority of agricultural jobs, the rule uses the average hourly wages for field and livestock workers (combined), as reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Labor Survey published in November 2019, as the AEWRs for field and livestock worker occupations through calendar year 2022.

However, beginning in 2023, and annually thereafter, the Department will adjust these AEWRs by the percentage change in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Employment Cost Index for wages and salaries for the preceding 12-month period. 

Michael Marsh, President and CEO of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, said the new system should produce a more stable wage for the H-2A program.

However, he said the rule could be subject to review if Democratic candidate Joe Biden wins the White House, he said.

“We applaud the Administration for taking this preliminary step toward AEWR rationality,” Dave Puglia, president and CEO of Western Growers, said in a news release.

“However, rules are subject to the whims of the administration in office, and cannot address every need of the farm workforce, which is why we will continue to work toward a more permanent and complete legislative solution that creates a more workable H-2A program and provides a pathway to legalization for existing agricultural workers.”

The Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association said: "We applaud the agency for recognizing that the USDA’s annual Farm Labor Survey was not the appropriate tool to determine wages for workers in the H-2A program

"This change more closely matches market wage rates while not lowering wages for agricultural workers."

The group said the measure will keep wages stable during the transition period and provides much-needed predictability for agriculture employers.

Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training John Pallasch, said: "This final rule provides greater consistency and predictability in the H-2A nonimmigrant visa program."

“It is a victory for farmers, agricultural workers, and the American people, who rely on a vibrant agricultural sector to supply food for our families.”

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue praised the final rule, which will become effective in 45 days after publication in the Federal Register.

Perdue said that the rule delivers on President Trump’s promise to stabilize farm labor costs and reform the H-2A wage rate. 

“This rule shows once again President Trump’s commitment to America’s farmers by delivering lower costs when they need it the most,” Perdue said in the release.

“Over the past several years farm wages have increased at a higher pace than other industries, which is why this DOL rule could not come at a better time. This is an example of good government that will ensure greater stability for farmers and help them make long term business decisions rather than facing uncertainty year after year.” 

The Department intends to issue a second final rule to finalize the remainder of the July 29, 2019, proposed rule that will govern other aspects of the certification of agricultural labor or services performed by H-2A workers, and enforcement of the contractual obligations applicable to employers of such nonimmigrant workers.

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