There’s a call to reevaluate the required minimum pay for ag labor and the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) Rule.
Michigan’s current minimum wage is $10.10 for workers who don’t get tips, but the minimum wage that farmers can pay their H2A workers is $17.34. Jamie Clover Adams, the Executive Director of the Michigan Asparagus Association, says the true cost is even more.
“Growers pay housing and transportation costs as well. So the all-in rate is about twenty-seven dollars an hour here in Michigan and that rate has increased about forty-five percent over the past seven years,” she said.
She also said that the H2A workers, who are the people who come from other countries to work on U.S. fields, farms, and ranches, keep all of their earnings because they don’t have to pay taxes or housing expenses.
Each state’s minimum wage for H2A workers is set by the federal (AEWR) Rule. Michigan is among the highest at $17.34, and Indiana is close behind at $17.17. California tops the list at $18.65 per hour. Clover Adams says unlike other industries, farmers can’t raise their prices to cover the rising wages.
“Are we as a country going to decide that we’re just going to rely on other people to supply the most nutritious things that we need in our diets? That is the road we’re heading down if we don’t do something about this AEWR rate,” Clover Adams said. “I pulled some data from Mexico and I’m being generous that they pay twenty-five to thirty percent of what we pay in wages. That’s pretty hard to compete with. How do we ensure that we have those nutritious fruits and vegetables for American consumers in the future?”
The rule was created in the 1980s and uses information from a national labor survey conducted routinely by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) that calculates pay rates for agricultural employees around the nation.
“It was never intended to be a price discovery mechanism. And what we’ve seen happen is that as the United States has had to use more and more H2A workers with this higher wage, they’re included in that survey. So, you have this ever-increasing number because you have more and more workers that are a part of the workforce and that are a part of that survey that sets those rates,” Clover Adams said. “We’d like to see it done away with and allow for some other formula that takes into consideration a state’s minimum wage or a state prevailing wage.”
She said it’s time to end the rule and let farmers set their wages the same way other employers do.