July 2016, Volume 22, Number 3
New York. The New York Civil Liberties Union in May 2016 sued the state to have an 80-year-old prohibition on farm worker organizing declared unconstitutional under the state's constitution. The worker bringing the suit says he was fired after meeting with union organizers.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a statement: "I agree with the NYCLU that the exclusion of farm workers from the labor relations act is inconsistent with our constitutional principles, and my administration will not be defending the act in court." The Farm Bureau opposes the suit. Farmers successfully blocked the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act, which would have given New York farm workers collective bargaining rights and overtime pay. The FFLPA passed the Assembly several times but was blocked in the Senate.
Michigan. Average annual UI-covered employment in the state's agriculture rose from 24,300 in 2005 to 30,100 in 2014, with employment peaking at 40,500 in August and reaching a low of 21,000 in January. Some 2,600 farm establishments paid UI taxes in 2014; they paid a total of $852 million in wages or an average $28,300 per year-round equivalent job. Average employment was 16,800 in crops, 8,100 in animal agriculture and 3,300 in support activities.
No one knows how many unique farm workers were employed in Michigan agriculture because federal unemployment insurance covers only farms satisfying the 10/20 rule and several workers often fill one FTE job; farm employers must participate in unemployment insurance if they hired 10 or more workers in one day during any 20 or more different weeks in the current or previous year, or if they paid at least $20,000 in wages to farm workers during the current or previous year.
If an average of two workers filled each year-round equivalent job in crops and support, Michigan would have 40,000 unique farm workers, plus 8,000 for animal agriculture or about 48,000.
Georgia. Georgia in 2011 enacted HB 87, a bill that required employers of 10 or more workers to use E-Verify to check the legal status of new hires beginning in 2012. Agriculture, construction and restaurants led opposition to HB 87, asserting that it would lead to labor shortages, higher prices, and fewer jobs.
Even though Georgia farmers in 2011 complained of labor shortages, they planted more labor-intensive crops. Blueberries provide an example. Acreage rose from 13,000 to 16,600 between 2012 and 2014, and yields rose as well, as farmers took advantage of higher demand and prices.
Washington. WAFLA, headquartered in Lacey, Washington, brought about two-thirds of the 12,000 H-2A workers into the state in 2015, and expects to bring 10,000 in 2016 for over 100 farmers. The minimum wage that must be paid to H-2A workers is $12.69 an hour.
WAFLA, which also provides H-2A workers to 20 Oregon farmers, expanded in 2016 to Idaho, where the AEWR is $11.75 an hour. WAFLA, which is usually a joint employer of the H-2A workers it provides to farmers, says the average cost of recruiting, getting visas and transporting H-2A workers to the Pacific Northwest is $1,200 a worker.
Sakuma Brothers, a strawberry grower north of Seattle, has been locked in a dispute with indigenous workers from southern Mexico for several years over wages, housing, and other issues. In June 2016, Sakuma raised the piece rate for picking strawberries from $0.24 to $0.28 a pound for the third picking.
Oregon's minimum wage, now $9.25 an hour, will rise to $9.75 in Portland and urban areas on July 1, 2016 and to $9.50 in rural areas. SB 1532 increases minimum wages to $14.75 in Portland in 2022, after which future increases in urban and rural areas will reflect changes in the cost of living.
Crookham Company of Caldwell, Idaho in June 2016 agreed to pay $200,000 to settle charges that it required specific documents to prove work authorization from immigrants, but not from US citizens.
Florida. Florida has become the top state for H-2A workers, with 14,350 jobs certified in the first two quarters of FY16, 20 percent of the US total. Most of Florida's oranges are picked by H-2A workers.
Florida's Red Diamond Farms was fined $1.4 million by DOL in May 2016 for favoring H-2A over US workers, giving the H-2A workers higher piece rates and failing to give US workers contracts.