The Department of Labor has finalized new rules that advocates say will limit farmworkers’ hourly wages.
The move will freeze minimum wages of more than 200,000 seasonal farmworkers participating in the H-2A visa program for two years. The change will also allow $170 million in projected wages to be transferred each year from workers to employers. Over a decade, that’s about $1.68 billion less that farmworkers are earning.
Farmworkers’ wages have been previously adjusted each year to reflect pay fluctuations in the farm labor market by using an annual farm wage survey. However, the Trump administration cancelled that last month. In 2023, the DOL will base wage increases on the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment cost index. This change will increase hourly pay at a lower rate, according to the agency.
The rate of pay has been increasing faster than inflation in recent years due to a shortage of farmworkers. A Huffington Post report found that this year wages ranged from $11 to $16 an hour compared to the federal minimum wage sitting at $7.25 an hour.
Changes outlined in the final rule were welcomed by some of the more conservative farm organizations like the American Farm Bureau, who say it will “stabilize” the market. On the other hand, labor groups such as Farmworker Justice and United Farm Workers argue these farmworkers should be provided with a raise as they’ve been deemed essential throughout the pandemic.
“Farmworkers are among the lowest-paid workers in the nation, generally earning poverty-level wages, but this policy will stop the modest progress that many farmworkers have experienced recently,” said Bruce Goldstein, the president of Farmworker Justice, in a press release.
The new rule will take effect on December 21. While the next administration could reverse the decision, it’s possible that it could take up to a year or more.