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April 2022, Volume 28, Number 2

Midwest, Northeast, Northwest

Maine. Maine’s governor vetoed LD 1711 in January 2022, a bill that would have allowed farm workers on farms with five or more employees to unionize, citing its “complicated provisions on mediation and arbitration.” The legislature did not override the veto.

Forestry and logging employment averages 2,000 in Maine, and includes at least a dozen H-2A drivers who haul lumber within Maine and to Canada. A third of the logging jobs are in Aroostook County bordering Canada.

Canadian workers have long been involved in Maine forestry as H-2A workers, but a 2010 state law restricted the movement of workers and equipment from Canada to Maine under the H-2A program and reduced the number of H-2A workers from over 600 before 2009 to less than 100 in 2021. In response, some Canadian firms allegedly established US subsidiaries and used these subsidiaries to apply for H-2A visas for Canadian workers.

New York. The Farm Laborer Wage Board recommended that the state Commissioner of Labor phase in overtime pay by reducing the current 60 hours a week threshold before overtime wages are paid to 40 hours a week by 2032. Under the Board’s recommendation, the overtime threshold would be 56 hours after January 1, 2024, 52 hours in 2026, 48 hours in 2028, 44 hours in 2030, and 40 hours in 2032.

Indigenous Purepecha from the 10,000-resident village of Comachuen in the highlands of Michoacán who are employed as H-2A workers on New York farms remit an average $7,500 a year, which sustains their families in an area that is transitioning from forestry to avocado orchards.

Virginia. DOL’s WHD assessed Reyes Nature Greens LLC $20,000 in back wages and $36,000 in CMPs for failing to pay the AEWR for all hours worked, failing to pay for at least three-fourths of the hours promised, and failing to provide adequate housing and transportation to H-2A workers.

Illinois. Chicago, a city of 2.75 million, had over 800 murders in 2021, the most in decades. Efforts to spur development in the southern and western sides of the city include raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who is seeking re-election in 2022, has clashed with police and teachers’ unions.

Tennessee. As more people work remotely, lower cost of living areas such as Jackson County halfway between Nashville and Knoxville are benefitting from rising populations, home values and taxes. Median home prices are less than $250,000 and median rents less than $600 a month. Workers who earn prevailing wages from local employers may be better off than workers in cities who earn more but have higher living costs.

Texas. DOL ordered Blaine Larsen Farms of Dalhart to pay $1.3 million to 500 H-2A workers who worked more than 40 hours a week in Larsen’s potato packing warehouses. DHS in July 2020 alleged that a Larsen Farms manager required H-2A workers to pay him up to $1,500 for their jobs.

One of Larsen’s H-2A employees died of covid in July 2020. The family filed a wrongful death suit, and in February 2022 a federal court ruled that the death was work related, making workers compensation the exclusive remedy for the worker’s death.

Operation Lone Star is a state program created in 2021 to use state and local police to partner with the owners of borderland ranches and arrest migrants who cross their land for trespassing. As of January 2022, two of the 32 border counties were participating, and 2,500 male migrants had been charged with trespassing; women and children who are intercepted are turned over to federal CBP agents.

Retired judges in Kinney County who released migrants pending trial were replaced by judges who agreed to keep migrants in prison until they agree to plead guilty, are turned over to CBP, and then returned to Mexico. Convictions for trespassing may make it harder for migrants to obtain immigration benefits in the future.

Idaho. Potato farm Jorgensen Management of Bancroft in February 2022 was ordered to pay $159,000 to 69 US workers who were paid less than H-2A workers and to H-2A workers who were not paid for three-fourths of their contract values. WHD said that its 1,000 US farm employer investigations in FY21 recovered $8 million in back wages for 10,000 farm workers and resulted in $7 million in civil money penalties.

Idaho’s dairy industry is expanding. In 2020, some 280 dairies with an average 7,300 employees were reported to the QCEW, an average 26 for each dairy that had an average 2,000 to 2,500 cows. Idaho has about 650,000 dairy cows and, using robotics and other technology, the cow-worker ratio is often 100 or more. Average weekly wages in dairy farming were $750 in 2020, up 22 percent from $615 in 2015.

Nevada. The state’s population has changed over the past several decades, becoming over 30 percent Hispanic. Nevada’s US senators are Democrats who are not well known among working-class Hispanics, many of whom prefer to work and risk covid rather than remain in lockdown and seek government assistance.

Oregon. HB-4002, approved by the Legislature in March 2022, would phase in overtime for farm workers over five years; overtime pay would be required after 55 hours a week in 2023 and 2024, 48 hours in 2025 and 2026, and 40 hours a week beginning in 2027. HB-4002 creates a $100 million Agricultural Worker Overtime Account to provide tax credits to farmers for up to 60 percent of their overtime costs for several years.

If signed into law, the state's Employment Department would study the economic impacts of the overtime requirements and periodically report to lawmakers, who must decide whether to revise the tax credit system. HB 2358, which would have phased in 8/40 overtime over three years, was not enacted in 2021.

Washington. Workers employed more than 55 hours a week must receive overtime pay for extra hours in 2022 and be paid on an 8/40 overtime basis beginning in 2024. Washington’s minimum wage is $14.49 an hour in 2022, and salaried managers who earn at least $1,014 a week can be exempt from overtime pay requirements.

Workers employed by RoozenGaarde Flowers and Bulbs’ Washington Bulb Company went on strike in March 2022 just before the monthlong April Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in support of demands for higher wages and improved sick leave. RoozenGaarde agreed to discuss the worker’s demands, but refused to sign a union contract.

Spokane in eastern Washington is growing rapidly, adding residents who are moving from higher-cost areas and seeking larger houses for less money. Home prices doubled over the past decade to over $400,000, half of price of typical Seattle homes.

Alaska. The state budget of $6 billion a year was swelled in 2022 by oil prices above $100 a barrel. Lower oil prices since 2013 drained what had been a $20 billion rainy day fund to $1 billion. Higher oil prices in 2022 prompted a debate over how much to replenish the fund and how much to spend now. The governor wants to double 2021’s APF dividend of $1,114.

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