The wage increase is based on the USDA’s annual survey findings on farm labor, which are used to ascertain the rate of pay for seasonal, temporary agricultural workers in farms across California and the U.S. through the H-2A program. The H-2A program allows U.S. employers or agents who meet specific regulatory criteria to bring foreign nationals to the U.S. to fulfill seasonal agricultural jobs. Here in California, there are tens of thousands who work in these positions.
Wages for farmworkers are based on the USDA’s yearly analysis of farmworker pay across various regions of the U.S. However as our Orange County wage and hour employment attorneys can explain, this latest wage increase was frozen by former President Donald Trump, who sought to help farmers recover from lost profits and fallow fields following the early 2020 shutdowns of the COVID pandemic. The action would have locked in federal minimum wages for H-2 visa farmworkers, with the intention of saving growers roughly $1.6 billion over the course of a decade. Trump’s freeze was lauded by top agricultural companies, who said the move was critical in keeping their farms running and grocery stores stocked in a situation that otherwise would have significantly disrupted food supply chains.
On the worker side, though, the action was broadly derided. For one thing, growers were boasting significantly higher profit margins. For example, farmers of plants and livestock in Fresno County alone indicated a record year for gross total production, valued at nearly $8 billion. Furthermore, farmworkers were officially designated during the pandemic as essential workers – meaning they risked their lives to work. Farmworkers already are among the lowest paid workers in the U.S.
California alone has over 3,000 certified H-2A slots, accounting for more than 10 percent of these positions nationally. Employers typically offer these workers the absolute bare minimum wage. Those are the workers that are going to benefit from this wage adjustment, which on average nationally is expected to go up 6 percent next year compared to this year’s rates.
Companies that work with H-2A employees are required to pay the state’s minimum wage, but that can’t be lower than the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR), which is the average wages for crop/livestock workers in a given region. H-2A workers in California earned $14.77 last year. Next year, they’ll be earning $17.51. Continue Reading ›