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Agricultural Labor Law



Resources and Updates

Documents & Links

Updated Sept. 30, 2018, with some additions throughout 2019


Introductory Comments


As is emphasized in the text of Food, Farming & Sustainability: Readings in Agricultural Law, many farm workers are immigrants, documented workers from other countries, or undocumented workers. Therefore, U.S. immigration policies pursued by the Trump administration have been central to recent developments in the study agricultural labor. 

July 16, 2019 Update: 


Politico's Morning Ag reported that the Trump administration released its proposal to alter the H-2A agricultural work certification process: 

The 489-page rule released Monday to modify the H-2A visa certification process would also alter the calculations used to set minimum wages for guest-workers, among other changes aimed at overhauling the Labor Department program that farmers increasingly rely on amid a chronic labor shortage.

Under the proposal, DOL would set specific wage rates for various agricultural occupations, rather than use a single minimum wage rate per state. The rule would also boost certain protections for workers, like guaranteeing that housing and accommodations provided by farmers are up to federal standards, and it would give employers the option of staggering the entry of H-2A workers authorized under a single application. 


Deportations, for example, have taken a heavy and toll on the workers who plant and harvest fruit and vegetable crops and on the farmers who depend on them. 

Farmworker Justice is one of the organizations that has tracked these policies and commented on the impact on workers. There are many helpful resources on their website.

For example, the recent proposal to change immigration policy regarding the “public charge” requirement has been criticized by advocates for farm workers. This change would deny visas and permanent resident status, and ultimately U.S. citizenship, to low-wage immigrant workers who have taken advantage of legal benefits available to them.  While this provision does not single out farmworkers, it will affect many of them. 


The proposed rule was published at Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds, 83 Fed. Reg. 51,114 (proposed rule, sixty day comment period)  (Oct. 10, 2018).  On July 16, 2019, it was reported that the White House began its review of the final rule by the Department of Homeland Security. The final rule would block immigrants from becoming lawful permanent residents if they have received government benefits. 


Proposals to create new temporary worker programs for the agricultural industry have been met with concern by advocates for the workers if they include provisions that minimize the protections afforded to workers.  

Similarly efforts to reduce labor expenses to farmers are met with opposition by worker advocates. Despite the shortage of workers, farm labors remain one of the poorest groups in the US workforce. 


"The average American household spent $515 on fresh fruits and vegetables in 2014, and about 28 percent of that—around $137—went to produce farmers. The farmers paid about a third of that to workers, while the rest went to farm maintenance and other costs. At current wages, farmworkers’ annual share of each family’s grocery bill at $45—less than 10 percent."   Can We Afford to Pay U.S. Farmworkers More? Nat'l Geographic (Mar. 31. 2016).

Related, on Nov. 29, 2018, Farmworker Justice posted the following notice:


Ag Employers Seek to Avoid 2019 H-2A Wage Increases (featured blog)

In a November 28 letter to Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, the National Council of Agricultural Employers (NCAE) asked for “short-term relief” from the federal government from the expected Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) for H-2A workers. On November 15, the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released a report showing the average wages paid to nonsupervisory field and livestock workers for 2018.  As stated in the current regulations, the 2019 AEWR will be these wage rates. Based on the data, hourly wages would increase approximately 6% nationwide, with higher increases for some states.  

The Farmworker Justice Blog posts news items addressing many of the most recent developments in farm labor.  

Harvest Public Media published the following report on H-2A Housing:

Posted: 28 Aug 2019 12:02 PM PDT

Missouri’s process of inspecting migrant farmworkers’ housing is riddled with holes and easily abused, according to interviews and documents obtained by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting and the Columbia Missourian.

USDA Resources

New data on farmworker demographics (2028): USDA, ERS, Farm Labor

USDA, ERS, Farm Labor Markets in the United States and Mexico Pose Challenges for U.S. Agriculture, Econ. Inform. Bull. No. 201 (Nov. 2018).


USDA NASS Ag Labor (reporting quarterly regional and national data for self-employed, unpaid, and hired workers and wage rates for selected weeks; also hired worker numbers and wage rates for selected states.

Other Government Reports:  CRS & GAO Reports


Gerald Mayer, Child Labor in America: History, Policy, and Legislative Issues, Cong. Res. Serv. Rep. 31501 (Nov. 18, 2013).

H-2A AND H-2B Visa Programs: Increased Protections Needed for Foreign Workers,  GAO-15-154 (Mar. 6, 2015).

2011-12 National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS), Dept. of Labor (raw data from survey).

Commentary and Analysis


How Should Physicians Help Patients Who Are Ill Because They Work in Agriculture?, AMA J. of Ethics (Oct. 1, 2018) (authored by LL.M. Adjunct Professor Nicole Civita).

The Farm Labor Drought, NPR, Planet Money (Apr. 25, 2018).

Tamar Haspel, Illegal Immigrants Help Fuel U.S. Farms. Does Affordable Produce Depend on Them?, Wash. Post (Mar. 17, 2017).


Vanessa Rancano, Will Trump's Tough Talk On Immigration Cause A Farm Labor Shortage? NPR, The Salt (Jan. 21, 2017).

Memo On Farmworker Economic And Demographic Statistics, Farmworker Justice (Nov. 6, 2014). 


Sasha Khokha, Silenced By Status, Farm Workers Face Rape, Sexual Abuse, NPR All Things Considered, (Nov. 5, 2013).

Rape in the Fields, PBS Frontline Investigative Report (June 25, 2013).


The Hands That Feed Us: Challenges and Opportunities for Workers Along the Food Chain (June 6, 2012).
Exploited Labor In The USA, On Point with Tom Askbrook, National Public Radio (July 10, 2012).

Cultivating Fear: The Vulnerability of Immigrant Farmworkers in the US to Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment, Human Rights Watch (May 5, 2012).




General Legal Resources


Agricultural Law Resources




The Food Chains documentary chronicles the efforts of the Immokalee Workers of Florida to influence the global supermarket industry through their ingenious Fair Food program, which partners with growers and retailers to improve working conditions for farm laborers in the United States.

2010 - present

2010 - present

As explained in Food, Farming & Sustainability, "agricultural labor" has a legal definition, and it does not apply to the workers employed at meat and poultry processing plants. These workers are, however, a critical part of the farm-to-table food system, and their working conditions also often raise similar legal issues.  

GAO Report: Workplace Safety and Health:  Additional Data Needed to Address Continued Hazards in the Meat and Poultry Industry, GAO-16-337 (Apr 25, 2016). 


The Northwest Arkansas Worker Justice Center, Wages and Working Conditions in Arkansas Poultry Plants (Feb. 1, 2016) (for discussion of report and response from Tyson Foods, see Chris Hickey, Study Finds Worker Abuse in Arkansas Poultry Industry, UALR Public Radio (Feb. 5, 2016).

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