Court denies growers’ request on farm worker wage rates

-The Hagstrom Report

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia this week denied a request by growers to throw out wage rates for temporary foreign workers that had been set by the Labor Department.

Peri & Sons Farms, Inc., and the National Council of Agricultural Employers had sued Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, alleging that the department violated the Administrative Procedure Act because it lacked statuory authority to promulgate Adverse Effect Wage Rates without first making a finding on whether the employment of H-2A workers adversely effected the wages of domestic agricultural workers.

The plaintiffs also argued that the Labor Department acted arbitrarily and capriciously when it disregarded certain factors.

The court said the plaintiffs’ claims are “time-barred,” and also dismissed the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

Public Citizen and TexasRioGrande Legal Aid represented three South Texas farmworkers who intervened as defendants in the lawsuit, saying that the growers were seeking to circumvent wage rules that protect American agricultural employees from cheaper foreign labor.

After the ruling, Public Citizen said, “The court’s rejection of the growers’ attempt to stop implementation of the AEWR will keep at least $123 million in the pockets of H-2A workers, and will benefit U.S. laborers who compete with or work alongside the foreign farmworkers.”

Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern, an assistant professor of food studies and affiliate of the Departments of Geography and Women’s and Gender Studies at Syracuse University, said in a news release, “This is an important decision in maintaining a reasonable wage safeguard for all agricultural workers in the U.S.”

“Most farmworkers in the United States live below the poverty line and struggle with food insecurity,” she said.

“When guestworkers are brought in, without a higher wage standard, the effect is to lower the standard for local workers. This decision protects against that. While maintaining a higher wage for all workers does not make up for all the injustices workers suffer in our food system, it protects a necessary regulation to assure these standards are not further denigrated.”

Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice, co-counsel for the United Farm Workers, said, “The growers’ arguments, in this case, were based on their view that wages of farmworkers in the U.S. are too high, not on any valid legal claim.”

“The H-2A program requires employers to offer market-rate wages before being allowed to hire foreign workers based on a claim of a labor shortage,” Goldstein said.

“Farmworkers’ wages are not too high; many farmworkers’ wages and working conditions are utterly inadequate. The law does not and should not guarantee agricultural employers access to unlimited numbers of vulnerable foreign workers at substandard wage rates,” he added. “We are pleased that the judge dismissed this lawsuit.”

“Farmworkers, who are already among the lowest-paid workers in the nation, should be paid more, not less,” said Teresa Romero, president of the United Farm Workers.

“The pay freeze as demanded in the suit filed by the National Council of Agricultural Employers would have put the lives of guest workers in serious peril and would have dragged down wages for domestic U.S. farm workers laboring alongside H-2A guest workers. We are elated to claim this dismissal as a victory for all farm workers.”


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