Ag Policy Blog

Ag Groups Call on Senate to Consider Labor Bill

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Farm workers pick the fields on a vegetable farm. A coalition of agricultural groups wants the Senate to take up a farm labor bill, pointing out the high wage changes made under the H-2A program by the Department of Labor. (DTN file photo)

With a wage hike of 6% in 2020 for agricultural guest workers, the Agriculture Workforce Coalition is calling on the U.S. Senate to take up legislation that would change the H-2A program and help farmers with their labor needs.

The coalition wrote Senate leaders on Thursday pointing to the change in 2020 of the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) set by the Department of Labor for H-2A workers that increases 6% from last year. The coalition cited that the AEWR is inflated "using flawed survey data that does not take into account the value of other expensive benefits provided to the workers." The letter also states the Department of Labor doesn't consider agriculture's ability to absorb the additional costs.

The Ag Workforce Coalition (AWC) cited the "dire labor situation" in agriculture in recent years. Farmers and livestock producers have faced weather events and tariff challenges in export markets, the coalition cited. That has drawn down the value of their commodities, but farmers also need workers and the H-2A has become increasingly relied upon by farmers.

"Today, the new AEWR goes into effect, and farmers' labor costs will suddenly increase by an average of 6% while revenues for agricultural goods continue to diminish," the coalition wrote the senators. "This increase is just the nationwide 'average' for 2020. In some parts of the country, farmers will be forced to absorb increases of nearly 10%, and some of those same farmers experienced increases of more than 22% last year."

The Department of Labor raised the AEWR 6% even though the average wages for workers in the private sector rose 3.7% in November from a year earlier, according to the Department of Labor in a Dec. 27 Wall Street Journal article. The same article cited that wages rose roughly 4.5% for the bottom 25% of wage earners in 2019 while wages rose 2.9% for the top 25% of earners, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. https://www.wsj.com/…

Adding to the agricultural labor challenges, the AWC also noted that entire sectors of farmers cannot access the H-2A because it only provides for seasonal employment. The AWC wants changes in the guest-worker program that will allow dairy farmers and others who need year-round workers to use the program.

For Fiscal Year 2019, the Department of Labor shows farmers requested 268,729 H-2A workers and were certified for 257,667 such workers. Farmers used more than 14,900 more guest workers in FY 2019 than a year earlier. The top states for H-2A workers were Florida, Georgia, Washington State, California and North Carolina.

While calling on the Senate to take up an agricultural labor bill, the AWC did not specifically recommend the Senate take up the "Farm Workforce Modernization Act," which passed the House in December on a 260-165 vote. Even though roughly 300 agricultural groups support the House bill, the American Farm Bureau Federation, which is part of the AWC, remains opposed to it.

AFBF opposes the House bill because it caps the level of guest-worker permits and still has an expensive wage rate, though other agricultural groups maintain changes in the House bill will lower the annual AEWR. Farm Bureau also is opposed to some liability language in the House bill as well.

The Agricultural Workforce Coalition letter: http://www.agworkforcecoalition.org/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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LCarterCenter801042540
1/4/2020 | 4:32 AM CST
It's sad to see ag workers be paid so little and employers wanting to resist the 6% wage increase....honeybees and other pollinators who work for free ARE DYING from herbicide poisoning ambient pollution and dying in transport working in many states not just locally near permanent hives of 60 years ago....TrumpOLINI just cancelled the bee hive census to cover up the death toll....imagine the labor cost when human hand pollination is required when foreign beekeepers refuse to be migrant workers at any price ? Industrial farming is the PROBLEM and sustainable local food systems is the answer local farm families can grow into when subsidizing the rich is ended