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April 2014, Volume 20, Number 2

Midwest, Northeast, Northwest

Wisconsin. Some 220 farmers, over 80 percent who have dairies with an average 525 milking cows, completed a survey of the employment and earnings of their 1,900 hired workers in 2013. ( Half of the employees on responding farms were immigrants, 30 percent were US-born adults, and almost 20 percent were relatives of the farm employer. A quarter of the employees did not complete high school, and most new hires are found via networks of current employees.

Earnings for milkers ranged from $8 to $10 an hour in 2013, with higher wages paid to herdsmen and field workers. NASS reported average hourly earnings of $11.24 for all Wisconsin farm workers in 2013, compared to $10.40 an hour in the UWEX survey. Most surveyed farms did not pay workers overtime wages. Researchers suggested that an Iowa study that found cash wages were 85.6 percent of total compensation was likely similar to benefits in Wisconsin.

Michigan. DOL charged Daryl Howes Farms, a 60-acre cucumber operation, with violating the Fair Labor Standards Act and Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act by classifying cucumber harvesters as independent contractors rather than employees in 2011. In April 2014, a federal judge sided with DOL and ordered Daryl Howes Farms to treat cucumber harvesters as employees.

Pennsylvania. Hollabaugh Brothers, a 500-acre farm near Biglerville, was profiled in January 2014 as an example of responses to farm labor shortages. The farm employs a peak 65 workers between August and October, and says that when it has too few workers, the timeliness of operations is affected. Hollabaugh argues that the nature of farm work, not wages, deters Americans from seeking farm jobs.

Oregon. In August 2012 berry producers Pan-American Berry Growers of Salem and B&G Ditchen Farms of Silverton agreed to pay $30,000 in penalties under consent decrees with DOL for wage violations; they also paid $200,000 in back wages to 1,100 workers. The growers agreed to pay after DOL said it would invoke "hot goods" holds on blueberries harvested with child labor in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Pan-American said it had 280 pickers for 165 acres of blueberries, and Ditchen said it had 310 workers for 150 acres. FLCs supplied workers to both farms, and the workers were paid piece rate wages.

The farms protested that DOL assumed workers could pick 50 to 68 pounds of blueberries an hour, and that workers who were recorded by farmers as picking at a higher rate were likely several workers employed under one SSN, suggesting the farms had hundreds of "ghost workers." The berry growers wanted to place DOL penalties and back wages in an escrow fund until they could contest the DOL charges. They sued DOL in August 2013, arguing that they were forced to settle in order to sell their berries.

In January 2014, a federal judge agreed with the berry growers that DOL "unfairly stacked the deck" against them by invoking the hot-goods threat that their berries could not be shipped unless they signed consent decrees. The judge noted that placing grower funds in escrow rather than invoking hot-goods holds was DOL's usual practice until 2011.

The judge recommended overturning the consent judgments signed by the growers. DOL said it would appeal the decision.

Washington. The state's annual Agricultural Workforce Report reported that farm workers were paid a total of $2.1 billion in 2012. Average hourly earnings statewide were $14.14 an hour in 2012, and $12.65 in apples.

Employment on farms averaged 87,250 in 2012, and peaked at 165,000 in July, when there were 46,000 farm workers in the Yakima area and 26,000 in Wenatchee. The state Employment Security Department reported that there were farm labor shortages in many crops in 2012 due in part to demand for farm workers rising faster than supply.

For example, farmers reported five percent too few workers each month between April and September 2012. Rising blueberry production is expected to increase the demand for labor; production rose from less than 20 million pounds in 2006 to over 80 million pounds in 2013.

Washington has the highest state minimum wage of $9.32 an hour. The state's governor in January 2014 proposed a $1 an hour increase, saying that too many full-time workers are struggling.

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