Higher minimum wages hurt competitiveness, Nassif says

Dan Wheat
Higher minimum wages makes agriculture less competitive globally, Western Growers president says.

KENNEWICK, Wash. — The trend within the Democratic Party to push for higher minimum wages at the federal and state levels works against U.S. competitiveness globally, says Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers Association.

“Throughout the country, states are looking to increase minimum wages, in some cases significantly,” Nassif told Capital Press at the Washington Farm Labor Association’s 10th annual Labor Conference in Kennewick, Feb. 13.

“Clearly it’s a wonderful thing for people to be able to make as much money as they can,” Nassif said, “but for agriculture that competes with cheap foreign labor, it makes us less competitive.”

Minimum wage increases don’t affect those paying piece rates because piece rates generally are higher than minimum wages, he said. But it affects employers paying minimum wage with no ability to raise prices because agriculture is a price taker, not a price maker, he said.

“So if our buyers don’t like the price of our produce because of increased costs, they will find a foreign supplier to undercut us,” Nassif said.

On behalf of the Agricultural Workforce Coalition, Nassif negotiated a $9.17 per hour wage for farm fieldworkers with the United Farm Workers of America in the Senate immigration bill last spring. If passed, the rate increase to $9.64 in 2016.

Those rates are becoming more attractive as states increase their minimum wages above those levels, he said.



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