Thanks to a challenge to a Trump-era wage freeze, California farmworkers are expected to receive a pay increase in 2022.
Thousands upon thousands of guest farmworkers and U.S. farmworkers in California are set to enjoy a pay increase in 2022, thanks to a lawsuit that will put an end to a Trump-era wage freeze. On November 24, the USDA’s annual survey findings on farm labor was released. Industry experts rely on the survey and other findings to “determine the rate of pay for temporary, seasonal agricultural workers employed through the H-2A program.”
President Donald Trump proposed a wage freeze allegedly designed to “help farmers, many of whom lost profit and laid fallow their land due to the impact of the shutdowns in early 2020.” The administration said, “it was considering reduced wages for guest farmworkers as a way to help farmers who saw their business disrupted during the pandemic shutdown.” In November 2020, the administration “formally announced a wage freeze for guest farm workers.”
However, farmworker advocates sued the Department of Agriculture over the proposal and “secured an injunction to stop the ruling.” When commenting on the matter, Bruce Goldstein, president of the Washington D.C.-based Farmworker Justice, said:
“We are pleased that the federal court overturned the Trump Administration’s regulation that would have frozen wages for U.S. and foreign farmworkers at employers that use the H-2A agricultural guestworker program.”
If the wage freeze would have been allowed to continue, it would have “locked in the 2019 minimum wage employers must pay foreign agricultural workers with H-2A visas and was estimated to save farmers and growers an estimated $1.6 billion in labor costs over 10 years.” However, critics of the wage freeze argued that the “wage freeze was unfair since farmworkers, who were officially declared essential workers during the pandemic, were putting their lives on the line to work.” Additionally, “growers say the wage freeze was essential to keep farms operating and grocery stores stalked as the pandemic shutdowns disrupted the food supply chain.”
It is unknown how many farmworkers will see wage increases, though experts estimate that numbers will be in the tens of thousands. It’s important to note that the increase will apply to both U.S. workers and H-2A workers. According to the Department of Labor, there are more than 30,000 certified H-2A positions in California alone. Goldstein said:
“Because H-2A program employers often offer the minimum required wage, we expect that tens of thousands of farmworkers employed in California in 2022 will benefit from this wage adjustment.”
When commenting on wage rates and the forecast for 2022, Farmworker Justice estimates that the “H-2A minimum wage rates for 2022 will increase, on average nationally, by about 6%, from the 2021 rates.” In 2020, the pay rate for H-2A workers in California was $14.77. In 2021, it was $16.05. In 2022, California H-2A workers can expect to say wages climb to $17.51.