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2/21/2013 2:06:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
Farmers see hike in H-2A wage

Kim Bresler
Washington Farm Labor Association

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Earlier this month, the Department of Labor announced the new minimum wage for employers in Washington and Oregon who participate in the H-2A program: $12 per hour, or 30 percent higher than the minimum wage for employers who do not use the program.

Gebbers Farms is one local company known to bring in workers each year, primarily from Jamaica, on the H-2A program, which is reserved for employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic labor.

Employers contend that this is just the latest in a continued practice of hostility by the administration toward employers who use guest worker programs.

"When Obama came in to office, his administration changed the AEWR [adverse effect wage rate] from a prevailing wage standard to one that would punish employers who are seeking a legal and stable workforce, and this is the result," said Washington Farm Labor Association Director Dan Fazio.

According to the DOL announcement, it is the wage that the department has determined must be offered and paid by employers to foreign and domestic workers for a particular agricultural job and area so that the wages of similarly employed U.S. workers will not be adversely affected.

Four states are now required to pay a wage higher than Washington: Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota all pay $12.33 per hour, and Hawaii is highest on the list at $12.72 per hour.

A main complaint of agricultural employers is that the wage covers all jobs in a particular state or region, and not the position that is applied for.

In 2008, the Bush administration changed the H-2A regulation so that it would reflect the prevailing wage for an activity and a region, and in most counties it was slightly above the Washington state minimum wage.

Fazio said affected employers wishing to take action can ask the state to appeal the wage.

"We've tried that, and so far no luck," he said.

Employers interested in signing up for H-2A can tailor the application so that it covers only certain occupations or certain jobs where the worker will earn greater than the minimum wage.

The Farm Labor Association allows its members to combine applications so that each employer will only be subject to the H-2A minimum wage requirement for a short period of time.

These applications will be discussed in detail at the Farm Labor Association's Workforce Summit this week in Yakima. For more information about the association, log on to wafla.org.

Jennifer Marshall contributed to this report.

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