U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue recently lauded the Department of Labor’s new H2A Wage Rule, noting it delivers on President Trump’s promise to stabilize farm labor costs and reform the H-2A wage rate.
Secretary Perdue said on Oct. 29, “This rule shows once again President Trump’s commitment to America’s farmers by delivering lower costs when they need it the most. Over the past several years farm wages have increased at a higher pace than other industries, which is why this DOL rule could not come at a better time. This is an example of good government that will ensure greater stability for farmers and help them make long term business decisions rather than facing uncertainty year after year.”
A release from Perdue’s office went on to note that the DOL final ruling “updates the methodology for determining the annual Adverse Effect Wage Rates in the H-2A visa program. The new rule improves the consistency of the AEWRs, provides stronger protections for workers, and establishes better stability and predictability for employers in complying with their wage obligations.”
It added that for the “vast majority of agricultural jobs, the rule stabilizes the wage rate through calendar year 2022 by using the average hourly wages for field and livestock workers (combined), as reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Labor Survey published in November 2019, as the AEWRs for field and livestock worker occupations.”
Then, beginning in 2023, and annually thereafter, DOL will adjust the AEWRs by the percentage change in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Cost Index for wages and salaries for the preceding 12-month period, the release explained.
“For all other agricultural jobs, DOL will set and annually adjust the AEWRs using the average hourly wages for the occupational classification reported by the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey program. These agricultural jobs are often supervisory or higher skilled/uniquely skilled, such as construction jobs, which pay higher wages than typical farming occupations,” the USDA advised.
Stakeholder concerns are also addressed in the changes, looking specifically at “potential for significant and unpredictable wage changes from year-to-year associated with DOL’s prior AEWR methodology, while ensuring better wage protections for United States workers similarly employed in higher-skilled agricultural jobs.” According to the USDA, “More predictable wage adjustments in the H-2A program will help American farmers plan and budget for their workforce needs and ensure that wages in the H-2A program keep pace with steadily increasing wages in the wider economy. By taking this action, DOL is protecting U.S. workers and helping farmers keep food on America’s tables.’
And going forward, the DOL “intends to issue a second final rule to finalize the remainder of the July 29, 2019, proposed rule that will govern other aspects of the certification of agricultural labor or services performed by H-2A workers, and enforcement of the contractual obligations applicable to employers of such nonimmigrant workers.”
The final rule is published at https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/ETA/oflc/pdfs/H-2A_AEWR_Final_Rule_With_Disclaimer.pdf, and the rule will publish in the Federal Register at a later date.