The federal government set new Adverse Effect Wage Rate regulations that will force growers to pay workers who — even briefly — perform duties such as driving or supervising differently than the rest of their workers.
In late February, the U.S. Department of Labor passed a new rule that assigns different wage codes to different job duties for workers receiving pay under AEWR.
If workers do any of those duties — even briefly — they and all workers under the same contract must be paid according to the higher wage code for the entire contract, according to the Northwest Horticultural Council, which represents the tree fruit industry in federal issues. That applies to domestic workers and H-2A workers alike, if they are under the same contract.
The new rule applies to job orders submitted on March 30 or after.
Most employees will remain under the AEWR, as it has been applied in the past, said Kate Tynan, senior vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council. In the tree fruit industry, the new rule will mostly affect supervisors, truck drivers and those hauling workers from housing to the orchard.
For example, if a worker routinely drives a van full of other employees from a housing facility, along a public road to a work site, that worker would have to be paid the wage for the shuttle driver and chauffer classification — which has higher pay — for the entire contract, Tynan said, even if that chore takes up a brief part of the workday. Likewise, a worker who hauls fruit with a semi from the field to an off-farm warehouse, even once, must be paid as a truck driver for their entire contract. Workers under the same contracts as those drivers also would get the same, higher pay.
Growers should consider filing separate contracts for workers who may be asked to perform driving and supervising jobs, Tynan said.
“It’s all about how you fill out the contracts,” Tynan said.
The National Council of Agricultural Employers will hold a webinar explaining the new rules and ramifications at noon on March 21. To register, visit: ncaeonline.org/resources/webinars.
—by Ross Courtney