Based on a recent farm labor survey, U.S. growers who use the H-2A guest worker program likely will face a steep increase in labor costs in 2019.
That should not happen, Michael Marsh believes.
Marsh, president and CEO of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, sent a letter in late November to the U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, asking for short-term relief from an expected increased H-2A wage rate for 2019.
Marsh said NCAE and a broad array of other farm groups also sent a letter Dec. 3 to top Congressional leaders of both parties on the issue. Marsh said grower groups believe the current wage rate should be frozen until more is known about how farm wage data is being collected and used to create the adverse effect wage rate.
A recent farm labor survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed there are some areas of the country that experienced agricultural wage rate increases of more than 20%, and the average national increase for farm labor was 6%. That’s far higher than the Bureau of Labor estimates for all wage earners — a 2.8% wage increase for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 of 2018, Marsh said.
The disparity in rates doesn’t make any sense, he said.
The Department of Labor typically uses the USDA farm labor survey to help set the wage rate for the coming year, usually issuing the new rates sometime in December.
With many growers facing losses in income because of retaliatory trade tariffs, Marsh said now is not the time for farmers to absorb a big increase in guest labor costs, one of their biggest input costs.
Marsh said in the letter to USDA and the U.S. Department of Labor that short-term relief is warranted.
“A requirement to pay a premium wage should, at a minimum, come with a finding that U.S. workers “similarly employed” would actually be “adversely affected” by the employment of H-2A workers at some other wage rate,” Marsh said in the letter.