The Department of Labor was recently hit with a lawsuit by farmworker groups over a newly proposed H-2A rule.
Farmworker groups around the country are asking a federal court to issue an injunction to prevent the U.S. Labor Department from “freezing wages under the H-2A agricultural guest-worker program.” According to complaints from the farmworker groups, “a DOL regulation froze wages for 2021 and 2022 at the 2020 adverse effect wage rate or an average in the United States of $13.99 an hour in 2020.”
When commenting on the rule back on November 2, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said it was a “way for farmers to save costs.” He added, “Over the past several years, farm wages have increased at a higher pace than other industries, which is why this DOL rule could not come at a better time.”
The farmworker groups, including the United Farm Workers and the UFW Foundation, pushed back in a lawsuit filed on Monday in a California federal court and argued the “DOL rule will lead to substantial wage losses to ag workers.” It further states:
“The two-year wage freeze will cause workers to be paid more than 4% less on average than they would under DOL’s current regulations…In certain states, like California, Oregon, and Washington, those losses would be substantially greater.”
Furthermore, the suit argues “California farmworkers will be paid about $1 less per hour in the final rule compared to the current methodology, would lead to about $170 in lost wages per month.” It states:
“Indeed, DOL itself estimated that the methodological change would transfer more than $1.6 billion in wages from H-2A farmworkers to agricultural employers over the next 10 years…with average losses to these foreign guest workers totaling $167.76 million per year.”
For those who don’t know, the H-2A agricultural guest worker program gives employers the ability to “hire foreign workers on temporary visas for seasonal jobs.” Over the last year, the number of approved H-2A visas jumped from 200,000 to 275,000, according to the United Farm Workers. However, under the current H-2A law, the DOL is prohibited from “approving employers’ applications for guest workers if the wage rates offered would adversely affect the job opportunities or wage rates of U.S. farmworkers.”
The recent suit argues the DOL’s latest regulation would violate the federal Administrative Procedure Act in a number of ways. For starters, it would fail to “comply with the H-2A prohibition against adverse effects to farmworkers’ wages, arbitrarily and capriciously select mechanisms that bear no relation to the farm labor market, and fail to give the public notice and an opportunity for comment on the wage freeze,” according to the suit.
The lawsuit not only seeks to prevent the DOL rule from being implemented, but it also wants the rule declared unlawful.
When discussing the lawsuit, Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice, said:
“Secretary (of Labor Eugene) Scalia’s decision to freeze farmworkers’ wage rates under the H-2A agricultural guest worker program for two years is an utterly arbitrary and unlawful act that inflicts grave harm to some of the most vulnerable workers in the nation.”