A proposed federal pay cut threatens to destabilize California’s farm labor. As our state relies on the food picked by farmworkers during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are questions on whether this is the right move:
“The Trump administration is considering cutting the pay of guest visa farmworkers during the coronavirus pandemic to help the farm industry. But California growers aren’t thrilled: They say it won’t help them much with their financial crisis. And they worry that it might even hurt them by creating uncertainty for their essential employees, prompting them to look elsewhere for work once the pandemic ends.”
The article continues on to say:
Unions and other worker advocates also worry that reducing farmworkers’ wages would cause hardships for people already living on the edge of poverty, and may end up lowering the pay of domestic farmworkers, too.
As the administration contemplates cutting pay to workers on the frontlines, farmers also may be on the verge of receiving a $16 billion bailout to keep their operations going.
But agricultural industry representatives and workers’ advocates alike say the move to cut worker pay won’t solve the food-supply-chain crisis.
“To see wages being depressed would be reason for concern and evaluation,” said Chris Valadez, president of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, which represents more than 300 companies. “We are one of the few industries still essential, still open for business.
“Longer term, it should cause us to reevaluate the AEWR system and what goes into it, but right now, I just think it would create more uncertainty in the mind of the employees,” Valadez said.
Union officials say a pay cut for the temporary visa workers may reduce the pay of domestic workers, too, because the H-2A pay rate is considered the average pay for all farmworkers.
“To reduce their wages at any time would be of deep concern, given that many farmworkers are struggling to feed their own families,” said Gieve Kashkooli, the political and legislative director with the United Farm Workers, a union that serves domestic and foreign farm laborers. “It would be an even deeper concern to do that during this COVID crisis while the federal government has declared farmworkers essential. And it’s a total insult to them.”