The National Council of Agricultural Employers is asking the federal government for “short-term relief” from imposition of new minimum wage rates for H-2A-visa foreign guestworkers in 2019. 

The National Agricultural Statistics Service released a report Nov. 15 showing its calculations for the 2019 wages based on a survey of prevailing wages of field and livestock workers by region across the nation. 

The proposed hourly wages would increase 6.3 percent nationwide and 15, 16 and 23 percent in three regions of the Mountain West “while average hourly earnings for all U.S. employment remains under 3 percent and, more importantly, crop prices are level or decreasing from prior years,” said Michael Marsh, NCAE president and CEO. 

The NASS calculations usually are adopted in December by the U.S. Department of Labor as the Adverse Effect Wage Rates (AEWRs) for the coming year. The AEWR is above state minimum wages and is intended to prevent wages of domestic workers from being adversely affected by the importation of foreign workers. 

In a Nov. 28 letter to Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, Marsh lauded the efforts of the departments to improve the survey. However, he asked for more extensive changes to the wage-setting process that would use state or local-based prevailing wages, an approach that retains a market-based outlook, before making any changes to rates for 2019. 

He asked for relief from new rates while that review occurs. 

“A requirement to pay a premium wage should, at a minimum, come with a finding that U.S. workers ‘similarly employed’ would actually be ‘adversely affected’ by employment of H-2A workers at some other wage rate,” Marsh said. 

NASS proposed AEWR is $15.03 per hour for Oregon and Washington, up 6.4 percent from $14.12, making it the highest in the nation. Meanwhile, Oregon’s $10.75 minimum wage is set to go to $11.25 next July 1. Washington’s minimum wage is $11.50 and goes to $12 on Jan. 1.

The proposed AEWR for Mountain Region 1 (Idaho, Montana and Wyoming) is $13.48, up 15.9 percent from $11.63.

The proposed AEWR for Mountain Region 2 — Colorado, Nevada and Utah — is $13.13, up 22.8 percent from $10.69. 

The proposed AEWR for Mountain Region 3 — Arizona and New Mexico — is $12, up 14.7 percent from $10.46. 

California’s proposed AEWR is $13.92 per hour, up 5.6 percent from $13.18. 

Dan Fazio, director of the farm labor association WAFLA, the largest H-2A provider in the Northwest at 15,771 workers, has noted the proposed Washington and Oregon minimums are roughly double the rate of inflation and unsustainable.

Jennifer Uranga, an Idaho-based H-2A facilitator, has said Idaho growers are “very shocked” by the huge increase and that a continuation of that trend could jeopardize farms. 

Central Washington field reporter

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