Western Growers Urges Senate Action on Ag Labor Crisis
IRVINE, CA - After an increase in the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) was implemented on January 2, 2020, Western Growers stood alongside the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC) to urge the U.S. Senate to address the agricultural labor crisis.
The AEWR is the U.S. Department of Labor-regulated hourly rate that agricultural employees are required to pay to H-2A temporary foreign ag workers and domestic workers in corresponding employment. The AWC wrote in a letter to the Senate that, among other things, the AEWR is “an inflated wage rate produced using flawed survey data that does not take into account the value of other expensive benefits provided to the workers.”
In conjunction with this letter, Western Growers’ President and CEO Tom Nassif issued the following statement:
“In an era where many family farms are struggling to make ends meet, labor remains one of the most pressing—and expensive—challenges jeopardizing the future viability of U.S. agriculture. [The] AEWR increase by the U.S. Department of Labor further strains the ability of American farmers to access and afford a legal, stable supply of labor to harvest our fruits and vegetables, and perform many other tasks on the farm,” Nassif began. “In Arizona, California, Colorado, and New Mexico—which combine to produce two-thirds of all fresh produce grown in the U.S.—our farms have now experienced an average AEWR increase of more than 23 percent over the past two years; the AEWR already substantially exceeds the minimum wage rates set by these four states. As any business owner can attest, it is difficult to remain profitable in the face of such significant and repeated surges in labor costs.”
He continued, stating that “this unsustainable rise in AEWR costs has been remedied in a bi-partisan bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month. The product of months of cooperative negotiations between representatives of major stakeholders, including both agricultural employers and farm workers, the House bill limits future AEWR increases, providing relief and certainty for American family farmers. Beyond the AEWR, the House bill also addresses two other key elements of the agricultural labor crisis: providing an earned pathway to legalization for existing workers and modernizing the existing H-2A system, making the program available for the year-round needs of certain agricultural businesses, including dairies, nurseries, and mushroom producers.”
Nassif concluded his statement by urging the Senate to take this matter seriously.
“As the AWC letter states, the onus is now on the Senate to craft a companion bill that addresses the core components of the agricultural labor crisis and levels the playing field for American farmers,” he stated. “To be clear: There is no tomorrow, there is no next month, there is no next year. The time to act is now. In this spirit of urgency, we look forward to engaging with the Senate and producing a legislative solution that is mutually agreeable to Congress and the Administration.”
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