Jan 4, 2024
Georgia officials, ag industry seek H-2A wage info
Growers in Georgia who employ workers through the H-2A temporary visa program are paying 21% more than 14 months ago, and the state’s attorney general is joining growers in protesting what they say is a lack of transparency in how those wages are set.
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr is calling on the Department of Labor (DOL), which sets the H-2A wages — known as the Adverse Effect Wage Rates (AEWR) — to pause the increases and explain how the wages are set.
The new AEWR went into effect Jan. 1., Following a 21% increase in the wage in the last 14 months, Georgia’s AEWR is $14.68 for 2024.
The Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Association (GFVGA) has worked with members of the state’s congressional delegation to meet with USDA and DOL in an attempt to shed light on the process that determines the AEWR. Unfortunately, there are still more questions than answers on how the AEWR is set, according to a GFVGA news release.
Regardless of the methodology, Georgia growers are now faced with another wage increase. Coupled with the complexity and administrative cost to use the program, the escalating wage increases are making the program unaffordable for growers who depend on H-2A workers to produce the fresh fruits and vegetables that feed our nation, according to the release.
No regard for the ‘wellbeing of Georgia farmers’
Recently, members of the Georgia House and Georgia Senate appealed to the Georgia congressional delegation to address critical issues affecting Georgia growers. Carr has joined the effort with a Dec. 29 letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Labor Julie Su.
“The lack of transparency concerning the methodology can only lead our constituents to reasonably assume these mandated wage increases were established arbitrarily and without regard for the wellbeing of Georgia farmers,” Carr wrote in the letter. “Therefore, we ask for more information on what methodology and raw data was used to justify the substantial wage increase and the discrepancy between the proposed AEWR and private sector rates. We also request that the increases are halted while we await the responses from your agencies and our office has the opportunity to evaluate them.”
GFVGA has also joined with organizations including the National Council of Agricultural Employers to submit an official petition to the Department of Labor requesting the department amend or repeal the AEWR methodology so that it conforms with the law that sets forth the rules for the program.
The GFVGA petition draws a clear line between rising AEWR rates and how they will ultimately lead to more imports of fruits and vegetables as Georgia growers have no choice but to cut production acres, according to the release.
GFVGA: Growers want to hire more workers
Based on the number of H-2A workers in Georgia, the 21% increase in 2023-24 will cost growers an estimated $150 million in extra wages, according to the GFVGA.
“The process by which the AEWR is set is anything but transparent and leaves growers to wonder how the AEWR is determined and how it seems so disjointed from the economic realities in their local communities,” according to the association. “Georgia growers would optimistically jump at the opportunity to hire more domestic workers for a myriad of reasons including cost and the administrative burden of participating in the program. However, our reliance on H-2A workers is a clear demonstration that U.S. workers are not interested in production agriculture.
“The current AEWR scheme, to protect U.S. domestic workers who do not exist, is driving the AEWR to a level that leaves U.S. growers uncompetitive and will ultimately result in fewer acres being produced in the U.S., more imports and a growing reliance on other counties to feed ourselves.”
GFVGA continues to seek multiple paths to make the H-2A program a viable and sustainable option for growers, according to the release. It thanked Carr, Robert Dickey, chairman of the Georgia House Committee on Agriculture and Consumer Affairs; and Russ Goodman, chairman of the Georgia Senate Committee on Agriculture and Consumer Affairs.
“Our work includes legal paths to restore the program to compliance with how it was envisioned to operate as well as working with Congress to make meaningful and lasting reform to the program,” according to the release.