“On January 31, 2022, Florida Citrus Mutual, along with many other agricultural entities nationwide, submitted comments to the United States Department of Labor (USDOL) in reference to the proposed changes to the methodology for the adverse effect wage rate (AEWR), which is the established wage for H-2A workers. It is estimated that over 95% of the Florida citrus crop is harvested by H-2A workers.
“The USDOL utilizes the Farm Labor Survey reported by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), to establish the wage rates for the H-2A program. The fact that nearly all of Florida citrus is harvested by H-2A workers, and the survey is of non-harvesting/agriculture work, results in gross wage inequalities, and should be discontinued.
“In addition, the proposed rule authorizes the use of occupations not identified in the H-2A program. This would force H-2A citrus/agriculture truck drivers, farm managers and farm mechanics to be paid at the private sector rate. For example, H-2A truck drivers haul Florida citrus from the groves to a processing facility and back to the grove. This procedure is repeated daily throughout the growing season. The private sector’s driver responsibilities include but are not limited to the challenges of driving through major cities and/or multiple states with deliveries/supply chain mandates, and often require overnight accommodations.
“The private-sector truck driver requires skill sets that are materially different from the farm driver, and the corresponding wages would be grossly unfair to the Florida grower and farm labor providers.
“As an alternative, FCM suggests the Department adopt one of the myriads of models passed in the U.S. House of Representatives over the years, such as 115% of federal or state minimum wage. This methodology would provide clarity and a realistic, responsible wage and value for the H-2A participants.
“A reliable, affordable workforce is absolutely critical for Florida citrus, Florida agriculture and United States agriculture, and an effective H-2A program can provide us with that mandate as well as keep an affordable domestic food supply and provide national security that domestic food supply delivers. We cannot lose the H-2A program, nor can we accept a flawed program.”
Scores of other agricultural associations and individuals commented on the proposed changes. As part of its comments, the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association stated that it has “deep concerns the proposed wage rate methodology changes will artificially raise pay rates even higher. American growers face an ever-increasing list of challenges from supply-chain disruptions and labor shortages to cheap imports undercutting their ability to make a living. As proposed, these rule changes have the potential to make farming economically infeasible and may force many growers out of the industry all together.”
Comments submitted about the AEWR methodology may be viewed here.
Sources: Florida Citrus Mutual and Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association
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