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'Utterly Arbitrary and Unlawful': Farmworker Groups Sue to Block Trump Wage Freeze

An attorney for Farmworker Justice warned that, if allowed to take effect, the wage freeze would cause "grave harm to some of the most vulnerable workers in the nation."

Farm laborers from Fresh Harvest working with an H-2A visa line up to get lunch on April 27, 2020 in Greenfield, California.

Farm laborers from Fresh Harvest working with an H-2A visa line up to get lunch on April 27, 2020 in Greenfield, California. (Photo: Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

Organizations representing U.S. farmworkers sued the Trump administration in federal court Monday in an effort to block a Labor Department rule freezing the wages of many farm laborers until 2023, a move that would cost workers an estimated $170 million per year in wages over the next decade.

Filed by Farmworker Justice on behalf of the United Farm Workers (UFW) and the UFW Foundation, the suit alleges that the Labor Department's rule—published (pdf) in the Federal Register on November 5—runs afoul of the Administrative Procedure Act by "failing to comply with the H-2A prohibition against adverse effects to farmworkers' wages, arbitrarily and capriciously selecting mechanisms that bear no relation to the farm labor market, and failing to give the public notice and an opportunity for comment on the wage freeze."

"Secretary Scalia's decision to freeze farmworkers' wage rates under the H-2A agricultural guestworker program for two years is an utterly arbitrary and unlawful act."
—Bruce Goldstein, Farmworker Justice

The lawsuit is seeking both a preliminary injunction to prevent the rule from taking effect on December 21 and a permanent injunction aiming to sideline the regulation.

Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice and one of the attorneys in the legal challenge, said in a statement that the plaintiffs are looking to "overturn the unjustified decision by Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia to lower wage rates of several hundred thousand farmworkers," frontline laborers who have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

"Secretary Scalia's decision to freeze farmworkers' wage rates under the H-2A agricultural guestworker program for two years is an utterly arbitrary and unlawful act that inflicts grave harm to some of the most vulnerable workers in the nation," said Goldstein.

As The Daily Poster's Julia Rock reported last month, the Labor Department's rule represents "the Trump administration's second attempt this fall to cut wages for H-2A visa holders."

After the first attempt by the U.S. Department of Agriculture was blocked by a federal judge, Rock noted, the administration came back "with a second attempt to cut the wages of H-2A workers, enacting a rule to freeze wages."

In a detailed comment (pdf) on the Labor Department rule, a coalition of dozens of advocacy organizations led by Farmworker Justice warned that "many workers will suffer increased debt, lower wages, worse housing conditions, and more uncertainty regarding job terms" if the wage freeze is allowed to take effect later this month.

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