Seasonal ag wages outpace minimum

Dan Wheat

Capital Press

Seasonal ag workers wages are rising at perhaps an unsustainable rate, a labor association director says.

Wages for seasonal agricultural workers increased 80 percent faster than Washington’s inflation-adjusted minimum wage in the last two years, the Washington Farm Labor Association director says.

“There is no question that farmworkers in Washington are among the highest paid in the nation. It is great for workers in the short term but I don’t know if it is sustainable,” said Dan Fazio, Farm Labor Association director.

Higher wages and more onerous labor regulations may hasten mechanization at the expense of jobs, he said.

Fazio was commenting on the October 2013 Agricultural Employment and Wage Report released by the state Department of Employment Security.

The report states inflation-adjusted agricultural seasonal employee wage rates increased 6.3 percent from October 2011 to October 2013 while the state’s inflation-adjusted minimum wage increased 3.5 percent in the same period.

The state’s minimum wage was $8.67 in 2011, $9.19 this year and increases to $9.32 on Jan. 1.

The figures come on top of state figures showing the agricultural industry as a whole increased wages 11.5 percent in 2012, second only to the management sector in terms of industry groups, Fazio said.

Federal surveys recorded a similar wage growth. National Agricultural Statistics Service data shows the federal government raised wages for foreign H-2A guestworkers in Washington 9.9 percent in 2013, Fazio said. It went from $10.92 to $12 per hour which is 30 percent higher than the minimum wage, he said.

The U.S. Department of Labor is working on the minimum H-2A rate, known as the adverse effect wage rate, for next year, Fazio said. Early indications are it may go down which would be a good thing, he said.

“Our hope is that wage growth can slow somewhat in 2014, so that farmers can afford to hire more workers,” said Fazio. “Employers are looking for bigger crops next year, and more of them are turning to the federal guestworker program to guarantee an adequate labor supply.”



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