Led by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, the Trump administration is reportedly pushing to slash the wages of foreign guest workers on U.S. farms in an ostensible effort to assist the American agricultural industry as it contends with market disruptions intensified by the coronavirus pandemic.
Immigrant rights advocates said the move, first reported by NPR on Friday, would be a cruel attack on vulnerable workers who are currently risking their own health and safety to help stock U.S. grocery stores and put food on Americans' tables amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
"While immigrant farmworkers risk their lives working w/o sufficient protection during this dangerous time, this country is excluding them from federal relief packages and lobbying to lower their wages."
"This is typical Trump bullying of marginalized workers," tweeted Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.). "While farmworkers are working during a pandemic to pick the food that feeds our families during this crisis, Trump is looking to cut their pay. This is not how we should treat essential workers."
NPR reported that, at present, it is "unclear how the reforms would be made, including whether they would be taken through executive action or through the federal regulatory process."
"But Perdue has pushed for adjusting what is known as the adverse effect wage rate, which prevents farmers using the H-2A program from paying all workers—U.S. and guest workers—wages below the prevailing rates in the surrounding area," NPR reported.
Workers on the H-2A guest worker program make up an estimated 10% of the U.S. agricultural workforce.
Ag industry has received $9.5billion in disaster aid. Why are growers pushing to cut wages for “essential” farm workers?
White House Seeks To Lower Farmworker Pay To Help Agriculture Industry : NPR https://t.co/Epxs02oGKV
— United Farm Workers (@UFWupdates) April 10, 2020
Movimiento Cosecha, an immigrant rights group, said the Trump administration's reported plan shows that "the lives of essential workers feeding the country during this pandemic simply do not matter to the agriculture industry or to the government."
"While immigrant farmworkers risk their lives working without sufficient protection during this dangerous time, this country is excluding them from federal relief packages and lobbying to lower their wages," the group tweeted Saturday. "For immigrant workers, this is a call to action. Without our working hands, there is no labor to sustain this country—during crisis and always."
"Like other workers protesting and striking across the country," the group added, "we must use our labor to demand basic dignity and protection we deserve."