Agricultural associations are upping their efforts to freeze the 2018 minimum wage for H-2A-visa foreign guestworkers to avoid likely big increases next year. 

Ag employers like Trump’s guestworker comments

Michael Marsh, president and CEO of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, is working with Congress to halt the huge increases in minimum wages for foreign guestworkers.

The National Council of Agricultural Employers sent a letter to the secretaries of Agriculture and Labor on Nov. 28 seeking such relief. 

Two days later, following NCAE’s annual meeting in Las Vegas, the organization's president, Michael Marsh, said he was also checking into getting an amendment to an appropriations bill to do the same thing. 

And Dec. 3, at the Washington State Tree Fruit Association annual meeting in Yakima, Wash., Jim Bair, president and CEO of the U.S. Apple Association, said he’s working with Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., to freeze the 2018 H-2A minimum wage. Bair said Tillis’ family uses H-2A workers. 

“I can’t make a huge promise but we are working to get that done,” Bair said. 

Marsh said Congress could instruct the secretaries to freeze the current minimum wage until the method of setting increases can be reviewed. 

“Nationally, we have a 2.8 percent increase in wages and having farmers pay, on average, over 6 percent doesn’t make any sense,” Marsh said. 

The National Agricultural Statistics Service released a report Nov. 15 showing its calculations for the 2019 H-2A minimum 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 16 percent, 23 percent and 15 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,” Marsh has said. 

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. 

Central Washington field reporter

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