A federal judge has blocked the H-2A wage freeze that the Department of Labor (DOL) announced back in November. The DOL decision would have kept H-2A wages at 2020 rates through 2022. Last month United Farm Workers (UFW) and the UFW Foundation filed a suit in an attempt to block the DOL rule. U.S. District Judge Dale Drozd granted the injunction preventing DOL from implementing the revision to adverse effect wage rates (AEWRs).
“The court finds that the balance of the hardships in this case weighs in favor of the granting of the injunctive relief requested by plaintiffs,” Judge Drozd wrote in his decision. “Even assuming that higher-skilled farmworkers will suffer a harm if the Final Rule is enjoined and ultimately reinstated, and that setting multiple rates will be confusing for employers and farmworkers, those hardships are marginal compared to the hardship that field and livestock workers…will suffer if a likely unlawful rule is implemented.”
Agricultural groups had been supportive of the H-2A wage freeze, noting it would help bring stability to the labor market. With the uncertainty created by the pandemic and trade market disruption, farm groups were optimistic that a wage freeze would help provide balance. The DOL rule would have also adjusted how wages were to be determined after 2023. Wage rates were scheduled to be adjusted based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Cost Index.
The DOL has been “ordered to operate under the 2010 Rule [as] it pertains to calculating the AEWRs,” according to Judge Drozd’s ruling. That means that wages will be based on the annual Farm Labor Survey from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Judge Drozd had required USDA to continue conducting the survey in a recent ruling after USDA indicated it would no longer be offering the survey. The DOL and the UFW plaintiffs will work to establish deadlines for establishing 2021 AEWRs.