Trump's latest move to hurt farmworkers could put money in his own pocket

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The Trump administration is slashing pay for farmworkers, which could benefit Donald Trump himself.

The country's largest farmworkers union sued the Trump administration on Wednesday for pulling the plug on an essential U.S. Department of Agriculture survey.

The move could slash farmworkers' pay and even "personally benefit" Donald Trump, the group said.

In September, the USDA announced it was suspending its semi-annual Farm Labor Survey, which provides the basis for wage estimates for all workers hired by U.S. farms and ranches.

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The USDA has used the survey to collect data on farm labor and wages for more than 100 years.

Last week, the United Farm Workers filed a lawsuit against the USDA and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue over the department's decision to eliminate the survey, a move the lawsuit argues will lead to lower wages for farmworkers.

"The wage loss could amount to thousands of dollars to workers who are barely making both ends meet," the farmworkers union said in a statement. "And the fact that they are trying to cut the wages of these essential workers in the middle of a pandemic is outrageous." 

The agriculture department announced its decision to end the survey on Sept. 30. "USDA has determined the public can access other data sources for the data collected in the Agricultural Labor Survey," a press release read.

The Farm Labor Survey has long been a vital resource for the country's agricultural sector. Among other uses, the Department of Labor uses data from the survey to set the federal Adverse Effect Wage Rate, or AEWR, which determines the minimum wage that seasonal farmworkers on temporary visas must be paid. Without the survey, wage rates for both foreign and domestic farmworkers would revert to the state or federal minimum wage.

The Trump administration's suspension of the survey could lead to reduced pay for both domestic and foreign agricultural workers, according to the labor union's lawsuit. Without the survey data needed to set fair wages, field laborers would see their pay cut by roughly 5% in California, 27% in Oregon, and 46% in Idaho, according to the lawsuit.

The current federal wage rate for farmworkers in Idaho is $13.62 per hour. Without the USDA survey, Idaho farmworkers' pay rate would revert to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour — a loss of nearly half of worker's regular take-home pay and thousands of dollars in wages, according to the lawsuit.

"Those wage decreases will send ripple effects throughout the farm labor market, ultimately resulting in many U.S. farmworkers being paid less as farms hire an increasing number of foreign laborers who can be paid lower wages than U.S. farmworkers currently receive," the lawsuit said.

UFW President Teresa Romero said the Trump administration's decision to cancel the survey is "egregious."

"How can Trump justify slashing pay for all farmworkers in the U.S., which means cutting wages by up to a quarter or a half in some states?" Romero told Business Insider.

She added that Trump could stand to personally benefit from the USDA's policy change.

The H-2A Temporary Agricultural Workers visa allows foreign workers to fill temporary or seasonal jobs. Last year, the State Department issued more than 200,000 H-2A visas to migrant workers.

In 2019, Trump Vineyard Estates LLC applied to hire 23 seasonal workers for its Virginia wineries through the Department of Labor's H-2A visa program. The department approved the request.

The current wage rate for farmworkers in Virginia is $12.67 per hour. After the policy change, Virginia farmworkers' pay rate would revert to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour — amounting to a 42% pay cut.

"It's egregious," Romero said. "Trump will personally benefit from the policy change by paying less to workers at his Virginia vineyards."

The White House and USDA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.