Farmworker Union Files Lawsuit over U.S. Department of Labor’s Failure to Protect Farmworker Wages

Washington, DC – Farmworker Justice announces its role as co-counsel in a lawsuit filed by Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), a farmworker union based in Washington state, against the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). The lawsuit, entitled FUJ v. USDOL, challenges the Department’s failure to adequately protect farmworkers’ wages from adverse effect under the 2022 “prevailing wage” H-2A regulations.

In collaboration with Columbia Legal Services, Barnard Iglitzin & Lavitt, and Edward Tuttenham, representing the plaintiffs, Farmworker Justice brings its extensive expertise and deep commitment to farmworker rights to this critical legal battle. Together, the coalition aims to hold the DOL accountable for its duty to protect the wages of local farmworkers.

The cause of these depressed wages is the faulty and unlawful process through which DOL determines the going market rate (which are then set as “prevailing wages”) for growers who choose to use the H-2A program. First, the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD) surveys employers about the past year’s wages and then passes the data – accurate or not – along to DOL. This unsubstantiated and often incomplete data is then used to determine the prevailing wage through methodologies that result in “no findings” for some of the largest crops in Washington state, such as Granny Smith, Red Delicious, and Fuji apples. Where there are “no findings” the wage requirement defaults to the minimum hourly wage for H-2A.

“The Department of Labor is failing to implement the very safeguards it designed to prevent local workers from having to see their wages drop due to the increased use of the H-2A visa program”, says Lori Johnson, Legal Director/Senior Attorney at Farmworker Justice. 

The lawsuit alleges that the DOL has violated the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to protect the wages of domestic workers from depression due to the increased use of the H-2A program by Washington growers. FUJ filed the original complaint on May 7th and filed a motion for preliminary injunction on May 10th. This preliminary injunction seeks an emergency order to prevent DOL’s unlawful actions from drastically reducing the wages of Washington farmworkers and to protect those wages until accurate wage findings can be published.

Through its participation in FUJ v. USDOL, Farmworker Justice reaffirms its commitment to advocating for policies and regulations that promote the well-being and dignity of farmworkers across the United States. The organization urges the DOL to take immediate action to strengthen protections for farmworkers and ensure compliance with existing safety standards.