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New AEWR rates challenged in Congress

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The adverse effect wage rates (AEWR) recently issued by the Department of Labor (DOL) are facing a legislative challenge.

The AEWR is used to set the wages of guestworkers employed under the DOL’s H-2A program.

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Until recently, the AEWR was set on a state-by-state basis only. But regulations issued in February included rates for specific occupations as well.

Most farm-related jobs (such as field work, packing, and shipping) will be unaffected. But wages for some jobs, including truck drivers and machinists, will increase sharply.

Agriculture has voiced strong objection to the new rates, contending that, in the words of one industry leader, “they only make a bad program worse.”

Now there is an effort to initiate a Congressional Review Act to overturn the new rates: “The Congressional Review Act (CRA) is a tool that Congress may use to overturn rules issued by federal agencies,” according to a summary by the Congressional Research Service.

The Senate version, sponsored by Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA), is S. 874.

The International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) BB #:378962 is urging members to contact their congressional representatives in support of the measure.

Normally the CRA process is used when a new presidential administration takes office in order to revoke regulations issued by the previous administration.

Hence the CRA effort for the AEWR is to a certain extent a desperation measure. A CRA must be approved by Congress and signed into law by the president.

It is hard to foresee that President Biden would sign a measure that would overturn provisions set by his own Labor Department.

Applications for H-2A employment will be covered under the old regulations if they are filed before March 30. After that, applications will be governed by the new AEWR rates.


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.