U.F.W. Sues U.S. Labor Dept. for Ignoring Wage Requirements

The two largest farm worker unions [have] sued the Labor Department, accusing it of bowing to employer pressures and illegally failing to
raise wages for more than 30,000 foreign guest workers. The unions are claiming that the department ignored a requirement to set higher wage rates each year for these workers, a requirement intended to prevent their wages from undercutting those of farm workers living in the United States.

The two largest farm worker unions [have] sued the Labor Department, accusing it of bowing to employer pressures and illegally failing to raise wages for more than 30,000 foreign guest workers. The unions are claiming that the department ignored a requirement to set higher wage rates each year for these workers, a requirement intended to prevent their wages from undercutting those of farm workers living in the United States.

In the lawsuit, filed on June 19 in Federal District Court in Washington, the unions said that the Labor Department was siding with agricultural growers at the expense of a vulnerable group of workers, mostly from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, who work under the H2-A temporary visa program and come to the United States for several months each year to plant and pick fruits and vegetables.

During the last decade, the Labor Department has usually announced the higher wage rates in February. Farm worker advocates said Labor
Secretary Elaine L. Chao broke the law by not announcing the higher rates.

“We felt it was time to force the issue,” said Arturo S. Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers, which filed the lawsuit along with
the Farm Labor Organizing Committee.

Stuart Roy, a Labor Department spokesman, said Secretary Chao had not violated the law. She would be acting legally, Mr. Roy said, as long as
she announced the new wage rates sometime in the calendar year.

But Bruce Goldstein, executive director of the Farmworker Justice Fund, one of the groups that prepared the suit, said: “The whole point of
the regulation is to issue the new wage rate for the year in which the farm workers are working. If you issue it in December, you haven’t raised the rate in time to help the workers during that year.”

Under federal regulations, the Labor Department must announce each year a minimum wage, different for each state, to be paid to the H2-A
workers. The rate, based on the average wage that each state’s farm workers receive, is $7.27 per hour in California, $7.25 in Florida and $7.68 in New York. Farm worker advocates said that based on recent studies, the wages should be raised 3 percent to 5 percent this year.

Author: Steven Greenhouse

News Service: New York Times

URL: http://www.ufw.org/nyt62801.htm