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Dear Mark Meadows and Sonny Perdue
News outlets have reported that, according to U.S. officials and sources familiar with the plans, Mark Meadows, White House Chief of Staff and Sonny Perdue, Agriculture Secretary, are proposing to reduce wage rates for foreign guest workers. This is an outrage! Farmworkers are, and have always been, essential workers.
- We demand that the White House, and the Agricultural Department, immediately drop any efforts to cut farmworker pay. We demand that all agricultural workers receive a hazard pay increase.
- We demand that all undocumented workers are granted amnesty and citizenship immediately.
- We demand that the Government purchase any food which cannot be sold by farmers to distribute to the people, especially the elderly, disabled and food insecure. Stop the unnecessary destruction of crops and food.
Pay farmworkers hazard pay! No cuts in wages!
The Department of Homeland Security recently classified the nation’s roughly 2.5 million agricultural laborers as “essential critical infrastructure workers”. Yet the Trump administration is plotting to end the regulations in the H-2A worker program’s adverse effect wage rates.
Each year, more than 200,000 workers born outside the United States receive H-2A visas to work here. But, the H-2A pay rules affect more than just guest workers. The adverse effect wage rate requires farmers using the H-2A program to pay all workers the prevailing rates in the surrounding area. For example, the adverse effect wage rates are $11.71 in Florida and $14.77 in California. The average hourly rate for farm work is $10.60 an hour.
Movimiento Cosecha tweeted that the Trump administration’s plan to reduce guest workers’ wages reveals that “the lives of essential workers feeding the country during this pandemic simply do not matter to the agriculture industry or to the government. While immigrant farmworkers risk their lives working without sufficient protection during this dangerous time, this country is excluding them from federal relief packages and lobbying to lower their wages. For immigrant workers, this is a call to action. Without our working hands, there is no labor to sustain this country—during crisis and always.”
From the fields to the factories, all workers engaged in food production should be given hazard pay.
Don’t let crops be destroyed—purchase and distribute the food
Food insecurity before the pandemic already affected 37 million people in the United States. Now, those numbers are increasing and will increase drastically. Over 16 million people have filed for unemployment and people are trying to find ways to feed themselves and their families. Photos of cars waiting in line for miles to get food donations have been circulating.
According to the New York Times, “Demand for food assistance is rising at an extraordinary rate, just as the nation’s food banks are being struck by shortages of both donated food and volunteer workers… Feeding America, the nation’s largest network of food banks, with more than 200 affiliates, has projected a $1.4 billion shortfall in the next six months alone.”
Yet, millions of pounds of food products are being destroyed because they cannot be sold for a profit. Dairy Farmers of America have estimated that farmers are dumping some 3.7 million gallons of milk each day. The New York Times has reported that a single chicken processor is smashing 750,000 unhatched eggs every week. Farmers in Florida and the Midwest are using tractors to turn over fields and rip up crops.
Food production is entirely determined by profit considerations, not the needs of people. In the midst of a pandemic, this is ludicrous. The government must step in to make sure people have food to eat, not continue lining the pockets of the owners of corporate agriculture.
The government has failed to act to meet the needs of the people. They haven’t tested widely, provided for front lines workers’ protections or acted quickly to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Now, in the midst of a continuing public health crisis, people are hungry, struggling to pay rent and faced with increasing unemployment. The government must act quickly to pay essential workers and provide necessary protections as well as feed the people.
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