Attorney General Becerra Stands Up Against Trump Administration Attack on Farmworker Wages
As a result of new federal rule, farmworkers will lose — at a minimum — more than $1.6 billion in wages to their employers over the next decade
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced filing a friend-of-the-court brief in support of a United Farm Workers challenge to a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) rule that will depress farmworker wages throughout the United States. The rule — currently set to go into effect on December 21, 2020 — will freeze some farmworkers’ wages until 2023 and slow their growth thereafter by changing the process for calculating the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR), which is used by DOL to help set wages for temporary H-2A visa farmworkers and was designed to ensure domestic workers wages are not depressed by the employment of temporary workers. However, by undercutting the AEWR, the Trump Administration is effectively lowering wages for both temporary visa-holder and domestic farmworkers, including hundreds of thousands of essential farmworkers in California.
“In the middle of the pandemic, President Trump is actively trying rip wages away from the farmworkers who put food on our tables,” said Attorney General Becerra. “That’s not how you support working families — and that’s not how you build back our economy. Here in California, we’re going to do everything we can to protect our essential workers because we know that real heroes come from all walks of life. When we fight for our farmworkers, we’re standing up for us all.”
By freezing the AEWR and changing how it is calculated moving forward, DOL itself estimates that the rule will result in the transfer of — at a minimum — more than $1.6 billion in wages from farmworkers to their employers over the next decade. Under the current process, agricultural employers have to offer, advertise, and pay a wage that is the highest of the AEWR, the prevailing hourly wage or piece rate, the agreed-upon collective bargaining wage, or the federal or state minimum wage. The AEWR is meant to protect domestic wages and working conditions. Ultimately, the DOL rule is an attack on one of the core safeguards used to help essential domestic and temporary visa-holder workers earn a living wage and keep food on our tables during the ongoing pandemic.
In the amicus brief, Attorney General Becerra asserts, among other things, that:
- California’s farmworkers perform essential and skilled work that is critical to the state’s economy and the nation’s food supply;
- By lowering the AEWR, the rule undermines Congress's intent to create a system that protects domestic workers' wages;
- Low wages are bad for workers, their families, and the community at large — and that increased poverty, as a result of the rule, will have negative health and educational outcomes; and
- The rule harms the state by ultimately making it more difficult to enforce labor standards, increasing poverty among farmworkers, and forcing families to seek help from safety net programs, such as the California Food Assistance Program and Medi-Cal.
Attorney General Becerra is committed to defending the rights of workers in California and across the country. Last month, the Attorney General urged the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board to adopt an emergency temporary standard aimed at protecting workers across California from exposure to COVID-19, which was adopted unanimously the same week. In November, he filed a comment letter pushing back on a federal attempt to upend employee status protections for workers across the country. In August, the California Department of Justice assisted Merced County in its efforts to contain a coronavirus outbreak at a Foster Farms facility in Livingston, California. In June, the Attorney General urged Walmart to step up efforts to protect workers and the public during COVID-19. In May, he slammed the President’s reckless executive order forcing meat and poultry processing plant employees to work without adequate protections during the current public health crisis. In March, Attorney General Becerra called on Amazon and Whole Foods to step up efforts to protect workers by providing adequate paid sick leave. More information on the California Department of Justice’s efforts to protect the public during COVID-19 is available on the Attorney General’s website at https://oag.ca.gov/consumers/COVID-19.
A copy of the amicus brief is available here.