BY RACHEL SPACEK AND MELISSA MONTALVO Statesman of Idaho
Thousands of Idaho immigrant workers who are part of a work visa program will get small pay increases in 2022 after the Trump-era wage freeze is lifted.
The US Department of Agriculture released its annual Farm Workforce Survey last month, which is used to determine the rate of pay for temporary seasonal workers from outside the United States working in farm jobs. . The survey results mean that workers in Idaho will see an estimated wage increase of 13 cents an hour, according to the American Farm Bureau.
There were more than 6,000 H-2A workers in Idaho between October 2020 and September 2021, the Idaho Department of Labor said. In 2021, these workers were earning $ 14.55 per hour, up almost 7% from $ 13.62 per hour in 2020. By 2022, it is estimated that they will earn $ 14.68.
Former President Donald Trump announced a wage freeze to help farmers who have seen their businesses disrupted during COVID-19 pandemic closures. Beginning in April 2020, the Trump administration announced that it was considering a cut in wages for guest farm workers admitted on H-2A visas. Then, in November 2020, the administration officially announced a wage freeze for guest farm workers, which was celebrated by senior farm officials.
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Farmworker Justice, on behalf of the United Farm Workers union and the UFW Foundation, challenged the freeze, and last year a California federal court ruled in their favor. He reinstated the wage increases based on investigations by the Department of Agriculture.
For Idaho farmers and growers, the nominal increase is good, said Joel Anderson, executive director of the Snake River Farmers Association, an organization in Heyburn, Idaho that helps farm employers hire through the H program. -2A.
Anderson said farmers are happy the pay rise was not as high as they had seen in previous years.
“It’s sad to think of it that way,” he said over the phone. “When the poll came out and we found it was only increasing by that much, having seen such substantial increases in previous years, we all breathe a sigh of relief.”
The decision would have blocked at 2019 levels the minimum wage employers must pay foreign farm workers on H-2A visas, saving farmers and producers an estimated $ 1.6 billion in labor costs. of work over 10 years.
Advocates said the wage freeze was unfair since farm workers, who were officially declared “essential workers” during the pandemic, risked their lives to work. Producers say the wage freeze was critical to keeping farms running and grocery stores stocked as pandemic closures disrupted the food supply chain.
HIGHEST RECORD IDAHO FARM BENEFITS
The University of Idaho’s annual report on the financial condition of the Idaho agricultural sector found that net farm income, or profit, is expected to be $ 3.5 billion, a jump of 38% compared to 2019.
“Total revenues are expected to increase 10% to $ 9.6 billion, and total expenses are expected to decline 2%,” the report said. “If achieved, 2020 net farm income will reach an all-time high, $ 978 million above last year’s record $ 2.6 billion. “
Elizabeth Strater, director of strategic campaigns for United Farm Workers, says the success shows that farmers did not need to cut farm labor wages during the pandemic to make money.
“In a year of record earnings, this industry has consistently tried to take away the wages of the skilled and vulnerable workforce, creating that wealth and withholding thousands and thousands of dollars from thousands and thousands of dollars. ‘farm workers in Idaho only, ”she said. H-2A workers are excluded from the labor protections that American workers are familiar with, such as overtime pay.
THE AGRICULTURE DEPARTMENT PROPOSES A NEW SALARY STRUCTURE
In a related case, the UFW and the UFW Foundation also sued the Department of Agriculture last fall to overturn a September 30 order by the USDA to stop the government’s collection of data on agricultural workers who help determine salaries and eligibility for family assistance programs.
The union argued that the wages of guest workers would drop sharply without the survey’s collection, as the Labor Department would not have data to establish new wage rates other than state minimum wages.
USDA agricultural worker data is used to establish the negative effect rate on wages, the rate of pay established for H-2A workers that does not adversely affect workers’ wages and working conditions. domestic workers.
“The elimination of (the farm labor survey) data and (the fate of the negative effect on wages) would have withheld up to $ 18,000 this year from farm workers already doing some of the most hazardous jobs. and the most exhausting imaginable, ”Strater said in an email. “Beyond the H2A workers, the (negative effect rate on wages) protects the people of Idaho from the artificial suppression of the wages of Idaho residents. If the (rate of negative effect on wages) were removed or eliminated, it would have an unnatural suppressive effect on national wages and lead to a spiraling shortfall of skilled workers willing to be employed on Idaho’s farms.
Strater also argued that efforts to eliminate the negative effect rate on wages and freeze the wages of H-2A workers are helping large farms rather than small or medium-sized ones.