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September 24, 2018

Farmworker Justice (FJ) condemns the Trump Administration’s proposed changes to immigration policy regarding the “public charge” requirement that would deny visas and permanent resident status, and ultimately U.S. citizenship, to low-wage immigrant workers.  

 The proposed rule drastically expands the public benefit programs that would be considered in a public charge determination, including SNAP, Medicaid, and housing assistance. It also imposes an income test of 125% of the Federal Poverty Level ($15,175 for a single individual) under which an immigrant who earns below that income will find it much more difficult to enter the U.S. or adjust his or her status.

Farmworkers and other low-wage immigrant workers will be disproportionately harmed by this rule. Farmworkers’ wages are among the lowest of any occupation and their poverty rates are substantially higher than the national average. Instead of accessing programs that they and their families are already eligible for, farmworkers will be forced to make impossible choices about their health and well-being and will be driven further into the margins of the economy.

“The Administration would punish our farmworker families who earn low wages while working long hours in dangerous conditions to produce our food,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice, a national advocacy organization.  He added, “Farmworker Justice and our allies advocate many policy solutions that would help farmworkers improve their wage rates and reduce their poverty rates.”   

Our country thrives when we support and value the contributions of farmworkers and other immigrant communities. Farmworker Justice will work with advocates across the country to oppose this rule. We encourage everyone to share stories and, once the proposed rule is published, submit comments.

More information about public charge can be found on the Protecting Immigrant Families website. FJ will keep our networks posted on any developments.  For more information, you may contact Alexis Guild, Senior Health Policy Analyst, Farmworker Justice, (202) 372-7422, [email protected].

Farmworker Justice


Sept. 24, 2018

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September 19, 2018

It needs to be said:  Farmworkers’ wage rates are too low.  Farmworkers provide us with abundant, safe, healthy food at relatively low cost.  They work hard in one of the most dangerous jobs in the nation. They should be compensated for it fairly.

Yet there is a real threat that Congress will soon legislate to lower farmworkers’ wages. Some agribusiness groups are complaining that they have to raise their wage rates due to a tightening in the farm labor market.  One 2018 report by an agribusiness-supported bank characterizes pay raises for farmworkers negatively, calling them “wage inflation.” 1

A conservative columnist, however, recently defended farmworkers’ right to benefit from a competitive labor market. 2 “So how much is someone’s time worth? The short answer:  Whatever someone else is willing to pay for it. Fine. But that rule suddenly doesn’t apply to farmworkers? Why not?”

Indeed, why not? Let’s look at the numbers on how farmworkers are compensated.

Farmworkers’ annual incomes are low.  About 30% of farmworker families live below the poverty line, according to the most recent  National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS).3That’s almost double the poverty rate of the U.S. as a whole (15.9% in 2012).4

Average and median farmworker household incomes ranged from $20,000 to $24,999.5  By comparison, the median US household income for the same year was over $54,000 and the average household income exceeded $76,000.6

Farm work is among the lowest paid jobs.  Data on farmworkers’ wages are imperfect but still tell a troubling story of low wage rates despite evidence of modest increases in the last few years.  One measure, The USDA Farm Labor Survey (FLS), surveys farms, but not farm labor contractors (“FLCs”). A second source, the Occupational Employment Statistics survey of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not survey farms; instead the BLS surveys farm labor contractors and other labor intermediaries that supply farmworkers to farms.  In either case, the data indicates an undervaluing of the physically difficult and dangerous work.

The BLS reports that the median wage for the Farming, Fishing and Forestry category falls at the bottom end with other workers in the food supply chain.7 According to the BLS, crop workers during 2017 averaged $11.24 per hour and livestock farmworkers earned $12.24 per hour. Interestingly, the farm labor contractors increased their wages much faster than inflation between 2012 and 2017, but these increases bolstered a lower wage rate compared to the farms in the USDA FLS.8

Nationally, farmworkers averaged $12.47 an hour during 2017, according to the USDA Farm Labor Survey (FLS) findings on wages of nonsupervisory crop and livestock workers combined.  The average wage in 2012 was $10.80 an hour. That’s an average annual increase of about 2.6% per year, which was slightly more than inflation.9 The USDA FLS reports average wage rates by region.  The Arizona and New Mexico region was the lowest at $10.46 per hour.  California, the largest agricultural state, averaged $13.18. Outside of Hawaii ($14.37), the Washington-Oregon region topped the list at $14.12 per hour.

One complexity in analyzing farmworkers’ wages is that a substantial percentage of crop workers are paid piece-rate wages, which allows growers to pay them based on the volume of fruits or vegetables they harvest.  Many piece-rate workers say that their pay stubs show an artificially inflated number of hours worked per day so that the employer makes it appear that their piece-rate earnings have yielded the required hourly minimum wage.

While these surveys show average wage rates exceeding the legal minimum wage, many employers only pay the minimum wage.  While several states have increased their minimum wage, including Florida at $8.25 per hour; California, $11.00; Washington, $11.50; Arizona, $10.50, the federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 per hour since 2009 and does not apply in some circumstances, such as at small farms.  The federal law provides a floor in several states, such as Georgia, where the minimum wage of $5.15 does not even apply to farms.

Most farmworkers in the fruit and vegetable sector are employed seasonally, not year-round, and their wages are too low to yield a reasonable annual income.  In occupations such as education and construction, many seasonal workers are paid enough to make a decent annual income and keep them coming back each year. In many rural communities it is difficult for farmworkers to find a different job during the off-season, and unemployment compensation is often unavailable. We also need to consider that housing and other costs of living in rural communities where farmworkers work often are not cheap.10

If you think raising wages to help improve farmworkers’ lives would blow up your food budget, think again.  Farmworkers’ wages are a small part of the price paid by consumers and therefore large wage increases for farmworkers would barely dent consumers’ wallets.

As National Geographic reported, “Remember that farmworkers’ share of each U.S. household’s annual grocery bill is $45. If farm worker wages go up by 47 percent, grocery bills would go up just $21.15 a year, or $1.76 a month” per household. 11 Some well-paid fruit pickers in Washington State receive about $25.00 for filling a bin that holds 800 to 1,000 pounds of apples.  That’s 2.5 cents to 3 cents per pound going to the farmworker so that he or she, if picking fast, has the opportunity to earn $18 to $20 per hour.  What do you pay for those apples: $2.50 a pound or maybe $1.25 a pound on sale?

The modest rise in farmworkers’ wages is under attack.  Certain agribusiness groups are pushing hard for Congress to pass Rep. Goodlatte’s anti-worker, anti-immigrant Agricultural Guestworker Act.  This bill would replace the current H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program with an H-2C visa program. One of many reasons to oppose the bill is that employers who hire foreign guestworkers would no longer be required to pay at least the prevailing wage rates.   Employers could bring in hundreds of thousands of temporary foreign workers at below- market rates, and U.S. farmworkers would be forced to accept those wage rates or be denied a job, driving down wages for all farmworkers.  We must preserve and improve wage protections.

The modest increases in farmworkers’ wages in recent years are well-deserved, but much more needs to be done to improve wages, working conditions, occupational safety, health and access to justice.  It is especially important -- for workers, employers and consumers – that Congress grant undocumented farmworkers and their families the opportunity for immigration status and citizenship. We must continue the quest to end farmworker poverty.    

1. CoBank, “Help Wanted:  Wage Inflation and Worker Scarcity, U.S. Agribusiness Experiences Hiring Headaches ,” Aug. 2018, available at https://www.cobank.com/-/media/files/ked/general/help-wanted-aug-2018.pdf .

2. Ruben Navarrette, Jr. “For many, time is money — but does that include farmworkers?,” Sept. 8, 2018, https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/navarrette/article/For-many-time-is-... .

3. U.S. Department of Labor, “Findings from the National Agricultural Workers Survey, 2013-14,” Research Report No. 12 (published 2016) at iii, 37-38.  The survey asked farmworkers to report their income from the year before. We therefore compare the NAWS results to data in other surveys from 2012. Available at https://www.doleta.gov/naws/pages/research/docs/NAWS_Research_Report_12.pdf

4.  U.S. Census Bureau, American Survey Briefs, Poverty 2000 to 2012 (Sept. 2013) available at https://www2.census.gov/library/publications/2013/acs/acsbr12-01.pdf

5. NAWS, at iii and 37.

6. Income and Poverty in the United States: 2017 Table A-1, Households by Total Money Income, Race, and Hispanic Origin of Householder: 1967 to 2017, Bureau of Labor Statistics (U.S. Census Bureau), Sept. 12, 2018, available at https://www.census.gov/content/census/en/library/publications/2018/demo/...

7. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics (OES), May 2017 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, see Occupational Groups 45-0000 (Farming, Fishing and Forestry Occupations, and 35-0000 (Food Preparation and Serving Occupations) , available at https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm

8. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics (OES), May 2017 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, see Occupational Groups 45-2092 and 45-2093, available at https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm

9. Annual Average Wage Rates - Region and United States: 2016 and 2017, in Farm Labor, Nov. 16, 2017 (National Agricultural Statistics Service, United States Department of Agriculture) at p. 25, available at  https://www.foreignlaborcert.doleta.gov/pdf/USDA_FLS_report.pdf and Annual Average Wage Rates - Region and United States: 2011 and 2012, Farm Labor, Nov. 19, 2012, at p. 24 http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/usda/nass/FarmLabo//2010s/2012/FarmLabo-...

Also available at Farm Labor website, http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/MannUsda/viewDocumentInfo.do;jsessionid=...

10. In the wine country of Napa Valley, California, where rents are unaffordable for farmworkers, some commute by car or van 2 to 4 hours round trip daily.  Esther Mobley, “Farmworker housing may get a subsidy boost in Napa,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 11, 2017. The Economic Policy Institute Family Budget Calculator provides the annual income needed for a modest standard of living for a family of two adults and two children, including for these major agricultural production areas:  $$102,776 in Napa County, California; 86,781 in Yuma County, Arizona; $74,674 in Yakima County, Washington; $71,046 in Polk County, Florida; $89,709 in Wayne County, New York; and $76,822 in Berrien County, Michigan.

11. Tracie McMillan, “Can We Afford to Pay U.S. Farmworkers More,” National Geographic, March 31, 2016, available at https://www.nationalgeographic.com/people-and-culture/food/the-plate/201...


September 07, 2018

Farmworker Justice Update: 09/07/18

Congressional Action Post-Recess

Congress returned from August recess this week and has a limited number of legislative days left before the mid-term elections. Below are some of the key issues currently being considered:

Appropriations: Potential Impacts on H-2A Program

Congress is facing a September 30 deadline for passing FY 2019 appropriations bills; otherwise they risk a government shutdown. Given recent remarks by President Trump regarding a potential shutdown over border wall funding, it is very likely that there will be a continuing resolution (CR) for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations bill, which covers funding for immigration enforcement. A CR is essentially an extension of current appropriations levels. Congress is also currently working on a serious of “minibuses” (packages consolidating various appropriations bills), which include labor, health, education, agriculture, defense spending and various other issues. There may ultimately be CRs on these remaining bills as well if no agreement is reached by September 30.

As a reminder, there are troubling riders related to the H-2A program in the House appropriations bills.  The House agricultural appropriations bill includes an H-2A rider that gives the USDA, rather than DOL, authority to establish and oversee a new online interagency platform for employers’ H-2A applications. This rider raises serious concerns about efforts to undermine DOL’s primary responsibility for ensuring worker protections are met and otherwise limit government oversight of the application process.  In addition, a rider was added to the House DHS appropriations bill that would expand the H-2A program to include year-round employment in agriculture. This change would not only undermine the intent of the H-2A program to address more difficult to fill temporary and seasonal jobs, but would also supplant many of the existing farmworkers who depend on these jobs for their livelihood and who are integral members of their communities.

Farm Bill

Another looming September 30 deadline for Congress is the expiration of the current Farm Bill. Senators and Representatives from both parties are working to reach a compromise as soon as possible, but various significant disagreements remain on issues including nutrition programs. One development that is particularly concerning for farmworkers is the potential inclusion of the “Pesticide Registration Improvement Extension Act of 2017,” PRIA 4, in the Farm Bill. As we have noted in previous updates, the Senate passed a standalone version of PRIA 4 which includes language guarding against rollbacks to pesticide protections for farmworkers. The Farm Bill PRIA language does not have these protections. As stated by Rep. Grijalva (TX) during a Farm Bill conference meeting, the House should instead pass the Senate version of PRIA in order to ensure farmworkers and their children are healthy and safe from pesticide exposure. Please click here to view a letter from over 100 children’s, agricultural, faith, health, industry, farmworker, and environmental organizations urging that PRIA be stripped from the Farm Bill.

Goodlatte Agricultural Guestworker Bill   

Despite the crowded Congressional calendar, the American Farm Bureau Federation is still attempting to garner support for a vote on Rep. Goodlatte’s “Ag and Legal Workforce Act,” H.R. 6417. Farmworker Justice strongly opposes Rep. Goodlatte’s bill and continues to educate members of Congress on the bill’s many anti-immigrant, anti-family and anti-worker provisions.

Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearing

September 4 marked the first day of confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in the Senate, which continued during the week. The hearings covered a wide range of issues, and were marked by protests as well as controversy regarding the release of documents. A vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination may occur as early as next week. Senate Republicans are hoping to confirm Kavanaugh before the Supreme Court reconvenes in October. Farmworker Justice joined a broad coalition letter stating many reasons to oppose Kavanaugh’s confirmation that was organized by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

U.S. and Mexico Reach NAFTA Deal, Canada Now in Negotiations

The U.S. and Mexico recently announced that they have reached a deal on the modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the new deal will have a labor chapter that will include an Annex on collective bargaining in Mexico and new provisions regarding goods produced by forced labor and protection for migrant workers. Farmworker Justice has found the current NAFTA’s labor side agreement protections for U.S. and Mexican farmworkers to be weak. It remains to be seen if or when Canada, the remaining party to NAFTA, will agree to the terms proposed by the U.S. and Mexico. President Trump has threatened to leave Canada out of the revised deal entirely. One of the disputes concerns trade of milk and other dairy products. The White House gave Congress the required 90-day notification for the signing of NAFTA on August 31. Mexico’s current government leaves office December 1, so this timing would allow Mexico to sign the new deal before the country’s change in leadership.

DOL Debars North Carolina H-2A Contractor

On August 28, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (DOL WHD) announced the debarment of an H-2A farm labor contractor. Ruben V. Serna, owner of Serna Harvesting, owed $194,109 in back wages to 181 employees working at 15 different North Carolina farms. Serna charged the workers for housing and transportation, and failed to properly record hours in payroll records. FJ remains concerned that the increasing use of farm labor contractors by farm owners to hire H-2A workers leads to abuses that are not prevented if the owners are not held jointly responsible and liable for violations of workers’ rights.

Workplace Immigration Raid in Texas

A workplace raid near Paris, Texas last month led to the arrest of 160 workers. The raid resulted from a criminal investigation into the Load Trail company, which makes vehicle trailers. Many of the detained workers are Mexican nationals. This latest raid is the most recent example of workers facing family separation and possible deportation because of investigations regarding their employers.

One Year After Trump’s Rescission, DACA Remains, For Now

September 5 marked the one-year anniversary of the Trump Administration’s decision to rescind the DACA program. A series of lawsuits have been filed since then, most of which sought to preserve DACA. Injunctions from these lawsuits have resulted in the ability for current DACA holders to maintain and renew their status. On August 31, Judge Andrew Hanen ruled on a lawsuit led by the state of Texas seeking to end DACA. Judge Hanen did not order a halt to the DACA program, noting that to do so in the current context would cause more harm than the states claimed the program itself caused, while at the same time questioning the legality of the program. (Judge Hanen is the same judge who previously ruled against the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program.) There is likely to be an appeal of Judge Hanen’s decision, but in the meantime USCIS is still accepting and processing DACA renewal applications. Please see NILC’s FAQs on DACA renewals for more information.

CAP Report on Immigrants in Rural America

A recent report by the Center for American Progress (CAP) analyzes the impact of immigration on rural areas. The report found that in many rural areas immigration helped to fuel population growth or at least slow population decline. The report also states that immigrants have been an indispensable part of the agricultural sector, which provides employment for 1 out of 10 rural workers. It mentions crop production and dairy as two specific sectors that are highly dependent on immigrant labor.

Civil Eats Article on Yuma Lettuce Pickers

A recent Civil Eats article describes daily life for the farmworkers who pick lettuce in and around Yuma, Arizona. The Yuma Valley grows approximately 90% of all of the U.S.’ leafy greens during the winter. The article highlights the great work done by Campesinos sin Fronteras in providing needed basic services to farmworkers. (FJ has a long history of collaborating with CSF.) As noted throughout the article, for all the technological advancements in agriculture, the working conditions and pay for those still doing the bulk of this work have not significantly improved.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Oral Arguments Held on ACA Case Texas v. United States

On September 5, oral arguments were heard in Texas v. United States (formerly Texas v. Azar). The lawsuit, brought by 18 state Attorneys General, argues that the ACA should be invalidated due to Congress’ elimination of the tax penalty under the ACA’s individual mandate. The lawsuit argues that the elimination of the penalty renders others parts of the ACA, including the guaranteed coverage of pre-existing conditions, unconstitutional. The Administration did not defend the key provisions of the ACA in court. Attorneys General from 16 other states and the District of Columbia, led by California, intervened to defend the ACA and its provisions in court. In anticipation of this case, Sen. Tillis (NC) introduced the “Ensuring Coverage for Patients with Pre-Existing Conditions Act” (S. 3388) on August 23. This bill proposes to amend the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to prevent insurers from denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions. However, the proposed bill does not prevent insurers from charging individuals based on age and gender or for specific services to treat those pre-existing conditions. The bill has been referred to the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee.

California Proposes to Ban Short-term Health Plans

In response to the recent federal rules authorizing expanded use of short-term health plans, the California Legislature passed a bill that would prohibit the sale of short-term health plans in California. Short-term health insurance plans are not subject to ACA standards such as essential health benefits coverage. SB 910 (sponsored by State Sen. Ed Hernandez) would prohibit the sale of health insurance plans that are less than 12 months. This bill is among a handful of bills passed by the legislature in direct response to recent Administration rules. These other bills include SB 1108, which would ban the state from implementing a work requirement for Medi-Cal, and SB 1375, which would prohibit the formation of Association Health Plans. Governor Brown has until September 30 to sign the bills into law.

Heat Stress Increasing Threat to Farmworkers

A recent Mother Jones article highlights the threat to farmworkers’ lives posed by extreme heat, which will only increase with the effects of climate change. The article mentions the campaign led by Public Citizen, the United Farm Workers Foundation and Farmworker Justice to petition the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for a national standard to prevent heat stress and the need to address this problem before it gets even worse.

Latest News

July 26, 2018

The House Appropriations Committee today, in the spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security, inserted a fundamental, substantive policy change to the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program. The amendment would expand the scope of the H-2A program to allow H-2A visas to be issued without regard to whether the jobs are temporary or seasonal.  Rep. Newhouse (R-WA) led this effort.


June 25, 2018

Farmworker Justice strongly supports the Fairness for Farm Workers Act introduced today in the Senate and the House by Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California and Representative Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona with numerous cosponsors. Farmworker Justice and our partners have been working with members of Congress on this important step toward treating agricultural workers with the respect they deserve.

January 25, 2018

Leading farmworker organizations and advocates for farmworkers in the United States and Mexico today are submitting a petition under the NAFTA labor side agreement challenging the failure of the United States government to comply with its obligations to protect international migrant workers who are hired under the H-2A agricultural guestworker program.  

The petition was submitted to the National Administrative Office in Mexico City for the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), requesting action by the North American Commission on Labor Cooperation (“Commission”), which the U.S., Mexico and Canada established.

The petition was submitted by Farmworker Justice; the United Farm Workers (UFW); the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO (FLOC); and Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN, Oregon’s farmworker union), which are based in the United States, and Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales, A.C (ProDESC), which is based in Mexico.

Principle 11 of the NAALC, on Protection of Migrant Workers, states the parties’ goal of providing migrant workers in one nation’s territory with the same labor law protection that apply to its own nationals.  The Agreement also imposes enforceable obligations on the three nations to provide high labor standards; effective, impartial tribunals; effective remedies to achieve compliance with labor laws; and effective action by each government to enforce workers’ rights.

The principal federal employment law for farmworkers in the United States excludes H-2A agricultural workers from its protections and remedies.  That law is the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act of 1983 (referred to as “AWPA” or “MSPA”).  It was passed to address persistent problems faced by farmworkers and strengthened an earlier law.

The petitioners seek to reduce abuses in the H-2A program, which recently has been expanding rapidly, to over 200,000 agricultural guestworkers in 2017, mostly from Mexico.  Abuses in the H-2A program have been reported by many sources over many years, including in the Farmworker Justice report, “No Way to Treat a Guest,” and a series of articles in Buzzfeed.   

The AWPA establishes obligations on farm operators and other agricultural businesses, including farm labor contractors. The AWPA contains significant protections regarding recruitment, hiring, employment, payment of wages, transportation, and housing of migrant farmworkers.  Importantly, the AWPA authorizes victimized workers to file a lawsuit in U.S. federal courts to enforce its protections.  It creates several remedies to compensate workers, stop ongoing violations, and deter future violations, including monetary damages, special “statutory damages” and injunctive relief.  

The exclusion of H-2A visa workers from the AWPA deprives them of labor protections, remedies, and access to federal courts, all of which have been deemed important and effective to protect migrant workers in the United States. Although the law and regulations of the H-2A program require certain protections for U.S. and foreign workers at H-2A program employers, the AWPA provides different and additional protections and remedies for U.S. migrant workers.  H-2A guestworkers seeking to enforce their employment contracts are relegated to state courts and often to inferior remedies under state contract laws.

H-2A guestworkers, arguably among the migrant workers most in need of protection due to their vulnerability, should not be excluded from AWPA’s protections and remedies.    

The petition, formally known as a “public communication,” requests commencement of proceedings under the Labor Side Agreement, formally known as the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), to address the violations of the NAALC and obtain all appropriate remedies.  The petition seeks agreement among the U.S., Mexico and Canada, that the protections and remedies in the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, or their equivalent, will be extended to migrant workers employed in the United States under the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program.

Contact information:


Bruce Goldstein

President, Farmworker Justice

Washington, D.C. 20036


[email protected]



Leydy Rangel

Communications Specialist

United Farm Workers Foundation


[email protected] / (760) 899-4604



Elena Villafuerte

Responsable del Programa de Análisis e Incidencia

Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales (ProDESC)

(5255) 52122229/ 52122230- 758608840/ 75860885

[email protected]

Calle Zamora 169-A Condesa, México D.F.

Facebook /ProDESC.AC

Twitter: @ProDESC