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2011 Iowa Farm Custom
Farm Labor in California
Wages and Fringes
The Teamsters and UFCW represent farm
The apparently unauthorized workers

Farmers are pressing for a new guest worker program that would eliminate: (1) the US Department of Labor's role in certifying the need for foreign workers to fill vacant US farm jobs; (2) the Adverse Effect Wage Rate; and (3) the need to provide free housing to out of area workers (farmers could provide a housing allowance instead of housing). One way to eliminate DOL's role in certifying a farmer's need for guest workers is a registry, a computer system to be operated by the Employment Service in each state. ES offices would verify the right of workers willing to be dispatched to fill farm jobs by seeking to be registered. Employers would submit job offers to the ES registry in their state. If an employer requested 100 workers from the registry, and ES had only 40 registered workers willing to report to that employer, the ES would issue a "shortage report" that would affirm that DOL agrees the farmer needs 60 foreign farm workers.
Some versions of a new guest worker program for agriculture include a conditional amnesty for unauthorized workers. Under one proposal, unauthorized foreigners who can prove that they did at least 150 days of US farm work within the past 12 months could became temporary legal US residents and workers. If they do an additional 180 days of farm work a year in five of the next seven years, they could apply for legal immigrant status.


Farm Labor in California: Wages and Fringes


The federal minimum wage is $5.15 an hour. The California minimum wage is $6.25, and will rise to $6.75 in January 2002. Many farmers pay entry-level workers and thinning and weeding crews the minimum wage. Harvest workers are often offered a higher than minimum wage or paid piece rates, that is, guaranteed the minimum wage, but paid according to how much work they accomplish—some employers have switched from piece rates to hourly wages as the minimum wage has risen to minimize record-keeping. The hourly earnings of piece rate workers in cases where the crew divides piece rate earnings can be very high, since the crew screens out slower workers, e.g. workers may aim to average $10 or $15 an hour or $100 a day. The average hourly earnings of farm workers as reported by USDA, $7.27 an hour in California in 1999, reflects wages paid under the diverse pay systems used in agriculture.

In addition to hourly earnings, US employers pay social security and other taxes on their workers' earnings, and many provide other fringe benefits. During the 1990s, payroll taxes and fringe benefits averaged 27 percent of total compensation in the US private sector. The total cost of employing workers in the private sector was $19 an hour in March 1999, including $13.87 an hour in wages and salaries (73 percent) and $5.13 an hour in benefits (27 percent). This $5.13 included $1.65 an hour (9 percent of total pay) for legally required payments for social security, unemployment insurance and workers' compensation, followed by 18 percent for voluntary fringe benefits: $1.20 for paid leave, including vacation and holiday pay, $1.13 for health and other insurance, and $1.12 an hour for retirement benefits supplemental pay.

Most farm employers do not provide many non-mandatory fringe benefits. When fringe benefits are provided, they tend to be a big fraction of total compensation. In compliance cases, the ALRB has been assuming that unionized farm employers provide non-mandatory benefits that add 15.7 percent to wages (excluding social security, UI, and workers compensation). The UFW has about 30 contracts covering 7000+ jobs, and the largest UFW contract covers a peak 1400 workers at Bear Creek (Jackson and Perkins roses), where fringe benefits are more than 16 percent, i.e., the $1.20 per hour for RFK in 1999 adds 16 percent to the cost of a $7.50 per hour worker.


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