Texas Farmworkers Oppose Lawsuit to Undercut Wage, Job Protections

Jan. 16, 2019

Greg Schell, TRLA Attorney, (561) 627-2108 or gschell@trla.org
Nancy Nusser, Press Officer, (512) 374-2764 or (410) 934-9588 or nnusser@trla.org

WASHINGTON (Jan. 16, 2019) – Three South Texas farmworkers represented by TRLA and Public Citizen have requested that a U.S. federal court allow them to join the U.S. Secretary of Labor as defendants in a lawsuit filed by growers seeking to circumvent wage rules that protect American agricultural employees from cheaper foreign labor. The three U.S. workers are asking to join the Labor Secretary in defending the wage rules. The lawsuit was filed by Peri & Sons Farms, Inc., a Nevada onion grower, and the National Council of Agricultural Employers to block implementation of this year’s adverse effect wage rate (AEWR). The AEWR is the minimum amount employers seeking to import temporary foreign agricultural workers under the H-2A program typically must offer their employees. The 2019 AEWR went into effect on Jan. 9.

“Farmworkers already have trouble making ends meet,” said Arnoldo Charles, who has been a farmworker for decades. "Sometimes we can’t even pay for the basics, like our utilities. We need higher wages—not wages that are even lower than they already are.”

The Jan. 16 motion asks that Charles and fellow farmworkers Michael Cortez and Olegario Lopez be allowed to join the suit, presently pending in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

The AEWR is published by the Department of Labor on an annual basis and is based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s surveys of wages paid by agricultural employers.

The growers filed their suit on Jan. 7 and asked the district court to immediately stop the 2019 AEWR from going into effect as scheduled on Jan. 9. The court denied their request for emergency relief, but scheduled a hearing on Jan. 28 to further consider the growers’ arguments. In the meantime, employers of H-2A workers are required to pay the published 2019 AEWRs, although the ongoing litigation could reverse that.

The farmworkers’ motion was filed by former TRLA attorney Edward Tuddenham, along with TRLA attorneys and Public Citizen attorney Michael Kirkpatrick. The three farmworkers argue that their participation is needed because their interests diverge from those of the Department of Labor. They are also concerned that the government will not take sufficient steps to ensure that farmworkers are paid any wages due them under the 2019 AEWRs if the growers’ suit ultimately proves unsuccessful.

“These three farmworkers are incredibly courageous for standing up for themselves and all farmworkers,” said Douglas Stevick, a TRLA general counsel, who is representing the farmworkers. “For more than 40 years, TRLA, Edward Tuddenham, and Public Citizen have fought to protect the rights of U.S. workers and H-2A workers under federal law and to ensure that the Department of Labor follows its own rules under the H-2A program. We are honored to stand with farmworkers once again."

Established in 1970, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. (TRLA) is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to about 25,000 low-income Texans in 68 counties and to agricultural workers in six southern states. TRLA’s mission is to promote the dignity, self-sufficiency, safety and access to justice for low-income Texans by providing high-quality legal assistance and related educational services.




nancy nusser