FAIR MINIMUM WAGE ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - January 25, 2007)
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Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, I call up amendment No. 118.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will report.
The bill clerk read as follows:
The Senator from Georgia [Mr. CHAMBLISS] for himself, Mr. Isakson, Mr. Burr and Mrs. Dole, proposes an amendment numbered 118.
Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that reading of the amendment be dispensed with.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
The amendment is as follows:
(Purpose: To provide minimum wage rates for agricultural workers)
At the appropriate place, insert the following new section:
SEC. __. WAGES FOR AGRICULTURAL WORKERS.
Section (6)(a)(5) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 U.S.C. 206(a)(5)) is amended to read as follows:
``(5) if such employee is employed in agriculture, or is employed to provide agriculture labor or services pursuant to section 218 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1188), not less than the greater of--
``(A) the minimum wage rate in effect under paragraph (1) after December 31, 1977; or
``(B) the prevailing wage established by the Occupational Employment Statistics program, or other wage survey, conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the county of intended employment, for entry level workers who are employed in agriculture in the area of work to be performed.'.
Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, I am pleased to have the support of Senator Burr and Senator Isakson on this amendment.
I ask unanimous consent that Senator Dole be added as a cosponsor of my amendment.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, this amendment is an attempt to remedy a wage issue that is a tremendous burden for some of our Nation's agricultural employers. There are about 1 million agricultural workers in the country today, and roughly half of them are illegal workers.
As we expand the Border Patrol's presence on the border and the efforts of our men and women on the Border Patrol become more successful, farmers and ranchers who have historically relied on an illegal workforce have started to feel the squeeze, and they should. A labor shortage has resulted in a number of areas. This labor shortage occurs because agriculture is a traditional gateway of illegal immigration into the United States.
Many illegal immigrants come to the United States, work for a while on a farm, and, as they integrate into our society, they find different jobs, such as those in hospitality or construction. Therefore, the illegal agricultural workforce has continuously relied upon new workers crossing the border illegally and starting out on the farm.
As a result of these events, a number of Senators and advocacy groups have argued for a greater urgency in immigration reform in the agricultural sector.
I have spoken with farmers and ranchers all across America advocating immigration reform, and I always ask them: Do you use the H-2A program? This is the legal temporary worker program in law today that allows for an unlimited number of temporary agricultural workers to come to the United States and work and then return to their home country and return again and again as needed.
The primary response to my question is, they don't use the existing program, that it is too costly, and it is too bureaucratic. There are several other issues they have with the H-2A program that I attempted to remedy in the context of the immigration debate last year, and I will continue to work on those efforts when the Senate takes up the issue of immigration reform this Congress.
However, the largest prohibitive cost of using the H-2A program is its mandated artificially inflated wages. If we are truly looking for ways to make sure our agricultural workforce is legal, then addressing this and obtaining legal agricultural workers is something that should be fixed on this legislation.
If the Senate passes this amendment, we will see an immediate increase in the number of legal workers on our Nation's farms and fewer crop losses resulting from the lack of labor. The high cost of the H-2A program increases every year, and it will increase even more with the passage of the minimum wage legislation we are considering today.
Agricultural employers who utilize the legal program are mandated to pay the adverse effect wage rate to all their workers, in addition to providing free housing, paying all visa and consular fees, and paying for the transportation and meal costs of those workers traveling to their farms.
Historically, approval for an employer to use nonimmigrant temporary workers was predicated on the following conditions being met: First, no U.S. workers were available to fill the specific job, and, second, that wages for that occupation would not be depressed by the hiring of foreign workers.
The imposition of a prevailing wage requirement as determined by the U.S. Department of Labor approved surveys in each State for specific occupations generally filled by temporary nonimmigrant workers would ensure three things:
First, that available U.S. workers would not be discouraged from applying for a job because it paid lower than usual local wages; second, all workers, both foreign and domestic, would be paid a wage that was competitive in the local area, thus avoiding depressing wages for that occupation; and third, that the use of foreign workers would not be more financially attractive to employers than employing U.S. workers.
Prevailing wages are determined by the U.S. Department of Labor through its State partners, using a methodology that is designed to capture a fair wage that reflects the local standards peculiar to a particular occupation.
At the present time, prevailing wages are required for H-1B, H-2B, and permanent work-related visas. However, employers of H-2A workers, temporary nonimmigrant agricultural workers, are required to pay a different wage rate called the adverse effect wage rate. Unlike prevailing wages which are established for a local area for specific jobs and determined by the level of experience, skill, and education which those jobs require, the adverse effect wage rate is an average of all wages, including incentive pay, bonuses, and seniority, for all farm jobs in a multi-State region.
Additionally, the adverse effect wage rate is not determined by the U.S. Department of Labor, the agency charged with determining wages for all other industries and occupations. Rather, the U.S. Department of Labor has chosen to use a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Officials in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service readily admit that the wage survey used for the adverse effect wage rate was never designed to set specific wages, only to describe them in general. Therefore, the National Agricultural Statistics Service's survey creates an artificial, multi-State wage floor, one that significantly increases annually, regardless of the economy, the agricultural market and competitive factors within a product line or local area.
For instance, while the minimum wage remained constant for entry-level jobs for the 10-year period starting in 1997 until today, the average adverse effect wage rate has increased 40 percent over that same period. As the National Council of Agricultural Employers noted in an alert to their membership:
The increase in the Federal minimum wage is likely to result in a larger than normal increase in the adverse effect wage rate for several years after the new minimum wage becomes effective as the upward adjustment in the wage rates works its way through the agricultural industry.
This is because the adverse effect wage rate is set at the average field and livestock worker hourly earnings, and upward adjustment in wages at the lower end of the agricultural wage distribution resulting in the increase from the minimum wage will, of course, raise the average hourly earnings for agricultural workers, generally.
Furthermore, the lower wage jobs that disappear as a result of the increase in the minimum wage will no longer be part of the average, forcing the adverse effect wage rate up even higher. Increased wages in agriculture will only hasten the movement of agricultural production to foreign soils.
Maybe the reason we have upward of 500,000 illegal foreign workers in agriculture today is because of the prohibitively high cost of using the legal H-2A program or maybe it is because we don't pay Americans who work on our farms and ranches enough.
While we guarantee a minimum of the adverse effect wage rate to temporary foreign workers, U.S. workers in agriculture are guaranteed only a minimum wage. So in my home State of Georgia, a temporary H-2A worker today is guaranteed $8.37 an hour, while an American worker is guaranteed only $5.15 an hour.
My amendment is very simple, and it attempts to remedy the two possible causes of the lack of legal workers on our Nation's farms and ranches. This amendment changes the Fair Labor Standards Act to ensure that all farm workers, regardless of whether they are temporary foreign workers or U.S. citizens, be paid a prevailing wage. Adoption of this amendment will attract more legal workers to agricultural employment by allowing more farmers to access the Legal Temporary Worker Program and by guaranteeing U.S. workers higher wages on our Nation's farms.
Prevailing wages reflect geographic location, occupation, and skill level. The use of prevailing wages will improve competition within the United States without negatively affecting workers and will keep agricultural jobs at home.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.