Western Growers, along with a number of other agricultural organizations, has signed onto a letter drafted by the National Council of Agricultural Employers urging Congress to halt the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) increases projected for 2019.
The H-2A visa program was implemented by Congress in 1986 allowing agricultural employers to legally and temporarily employ foreign farm workers as long as the employer can establish it was unable to find an adequate number of U.S. workers.
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) relies on the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Farm Labor Survey to establish a minimum wage, known as the AEWR, for foreign agricultural workers and domestic workers working in “corresponding employment” (i.e., performing similar jobs as H-2A workers). Using the NASS survey data threatens to significantly inflate the 2019 AEWR. The survey indicates an increase in labor costs by as much 23% over the 2018 AEWR, in some regions. Nationwide, the 2019 H-2A labor rates are projected to increase by 6.3% on average, which is more than double the projected nationwide increase in wages of 2.8% for all other workers.
According to the NASS Farm Labor Survey results, without a freeze, states represented by Western Growers can anticipate the following AEWRs for 2019:
- Arizona - $12.00 per hour, up 14.7% over 2018
- California - $13.92, up 5.6%
- Colorado - $13.13, up 22.8%
- New Mexico - $13.13, up 22.8%
Senator Thom Tillis (NC) is proposing a short-term freeze for the 2019 AEWR to afford the DOL and Department of Agriculture time to establish an improved system which accurately determines any adverse effects, as well as develops a mechanism to address those effects. Western Growers, along with partner organizations who also signed onto the letter, is urging Congress to support Senator Tillis’s proposal to address this issue.
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