U.S. federal judge blocks H-2A wage rate freeze, reforms
A federal judge is blocking the Trump administration from carrying out changes to the H-2A minimum wage rates that would hold down annual pay increases and potentially encourage farms to import more foreign workers under the visa program.
The reforms released by the Labor Department on Nov. 2, shortly before the election, represented a win for farm groups that been calling on the administration to stop basing the rates on a regional survey of farmworker pay that led to frequent spikes in H-2A wages.
The United Farm Workers filed suit to block the Labor Department rule from being implemented, and U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd in the Eastern District of California granted a preliminary injunction on Wednesday.
For most H-2A workers, the Labor Department rule would freeze the H-2A “adverse effect wage rate,” or AEWR, for 2021 and 2022 and then base future increases on a national average measure of wages known as the Employment Cost Index, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The judge’s order requires the Labor Department to continue basing the AEWR on an annual Agriculture Department survey of farmworker wages. Ahead of the release of the Labor Department rule, USDA announced that it was killing the Farm Labor Survey but was forced to relent after Drozd on Oct. 28 ordered the department to continue doing it.
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