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Clarifying the new AEWR rules

farmworkers heat

The federal H-2A guestworker program is widely loathed by agricultural interests.

One reason is the adverse effect wage rate (AEWR). This cumbersomely named provision stipulates the minimum wage guestworkers must be paid in order to prevent downward wage pressures for domestic workers. Until recently, the AEWR was set on a state-by-state basis.

Here are the 2023 rates for selected states:

• Arizona           $15.62

• California        $18.65

• Colorado         $16.34

• New Mexico    $15.62

richard smoley produce blueprints

The federal government announced new AEWR provisions in February, to widespread recrimination from agriculture. One example:

“The fresh produce and floral industry already faces enough challenges and the publication of today’s AEWR rule is just one more burden our industry can simply not bear,” said International Fresh Produce Association BB #:378962 CEO Cathy Burns. IFPA criticizes Department of Labor H-2A wage revisions – Produce Blue Book

For some clarification on the new rates, I turned to Philip Martin, a professor at the University of California at Davis who is one of the nation’s leading experts on farm labor.

“The basic idea of the new regs is that there will be multiple AEWRs rather than one per state. It won’t make much difference for 95%+ of the jobs, but construction, truck driver, supervisor, etc. AEWRs will jump, in some cases doubling,” Martin said in an email to me.

Martin went on to explain that the Department of Labor (DOL) “revised its AEWR methodology February 28, 2023, switching from one AEWR per state based on the USDA Farm Labor Survey [FLS] of farm employers who hire workers directly to five to 10 AEWRs in each state based on the job to be filled. . . .

“DOL emphasized that 98 percent of job titles are covered by USDA’s FLS, including about 85 percent who were Farmworkers and Laborers, Crop, Nursery and Greenhouse Workers (45-2092) in FY22; seven percent who were Agricultural Equipment Operators (45-2091); four percent who were Farmworkers, Farm, Ranch, and Aquacultural Animals (45-2093); and less than one percent who were Graders and Sorters, Agricultural Products (45-2041) and All Other Agricultural Workers (45-2099).

“DOL’s Occupational Employment and Wage Survey will be used to set statewide AEWRs for job titles that are not covered by the FLS, including construction laborers, truck drivers, and supervisors. DOL justified the change by emphasizing that these nonfarm job titles have higher hourly wages than field and livestock workers, so farm employers save money by calling truck drivers (SOC 53-3032) who move harvested crops over public roads to processing or storage facilities agricultural equipment operators (45-2091) in order to pay lower the lower FLS hourly wage and avoid overtime pay requirements. Similarly, construction laborers (SOC 47-2061) who build facilities on farms may be called animal farm workers (SOC 45-2093) to pay lower wages and avoid overtime.”

The new wage rates will be announced starting in April 2023.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.