Home Agriculture Long-Overdue Legislation Finally Allowing Farmworkers to Receive Minimum Wage Passes Virginia General...

Long-Overdue Legislation Finally Allowing Farmworkers to Receive Minimum Wage Passes Virginia General Assembly

Del. Adele McClure's bill "removes a vestige of Jim Crow-era law which exempts farmworkers from the protections provided by the Virginia Minimum Wage Act"

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Great work by first-term Virginia Delegate Adele McClure (D-Arlington). Note that Republicans (disgracefully) all voted *against* this important, essential legislation. Now we’ll see what Youngkin/Trumpkin does, but I can’t say I’m optimistic he’ll sign this – or any legislation that might actually help people.

Long Overdue Legislation Finally Allowing Farmworkers to Receive Minimum Wage Passes Virginia General Assembly

Virginia now only one step away from ensuring these essential workers are fairly compensated

RICHMOND, VA – Today, HB 157 received critical support on the Senate floor, by a vote of 20 to 19, meaning that the bill has officially been passed by the General Assembly for the first time in Virginia history. It will now go to the Governor for consideration. 

This bill removes a vestige of Jim Crow-era law which exempts farmworkers from the protections provided by the Virginia Minimum Wage Act (“VMWA”). Delegate Adele McClure (D – Arlington) introduced HB 157 along with her colleague Delegate Phil Hernandez (D – Norfolk) in the House of Delegates to ensure that all of Virginia’s farmworkers receive fair pay. The bill also removes the exemption for temporary seasonal workers on H-2 visas.

“I’m excited that the very first bill I introduced as a Delegate addresses an issue as crucial as making it possible for the Commonwealth’s farmworkers to finally be included in Virginia’s minimum wage protections,” Del. McClure said. “Paying the hardworking people who help feed our families and bolster our economy fairly is not only the right thing to do, it’s also extremely personal. I am the granddaughter of a sharecropper, and my family has felt the impacts of these types of exclusionary policies for generations, as have so many others. This bill represents another step toward erasing the troubling legacy of Jim Crow from state law while supporting the essential workers who we may not often see, but who nevertheless support every single Virginian.”

“This bill represents the very least we can do for farmworkers, who work tirelessly to put food on our tables,” said Del. Hernandez. “The fact that this legislation has, for the first time, passed the House and the Senate underscores the growing momentum in the General Assembly to prioritize farmworker justice and advance the dignity of all workers.”

The gap in fair wages for farmworkers dates back to the 1938 Congressional exclusion of farmworkers from the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). The FLSA farmworker minimum wage exemption was based on racially motivated, pro-segregation policies, and while Congress eventually removed this exemption, Virginia and several other states did not.

While most farmers across the Commonwealth are already doing right by their employees by paying them at or above the state minimum wage, there are employers that continue to demand more and more from their employees while paying far below the minimum wage—which creates an unfair competitive advantage and undercuts farmers who are paying their workers fairly.

Now, Governor Youngkin has the unique opportunity to sign this important legislation and right a historical wrong for some of Virginia’s hardest and most essential workers.

In 2020, while the Virginia General Assembly passed momentous legislation to raise the minimum wage, this act still maintained the outdated farmworkers exemption, while also adding an exemption for H-2A and H-2B workers on temporary visas. These steps resulted in worsening wage inequities between farmworkers and temporary migrant workers and the rest of Virginia’s workforce.

“I feel very good that this has passed. It is beneficial for many people and would change their lives. I hope that the Governor signs this proposal—we have been working for a long time with very low wages, and we would be very grateful that we are now protected,” said Maria G., a farmworker in the Northern Neck of Virginia.

“Securing fair wages for farmworkers could improve safety, productivity, and particularly raise the wellbeing of workers, their families, and the community,” said Antonio Tovar, Senior Policy Associate from the National Family Farm Coalition.

“This legislation not only ensures that farmworkers are treated equally and paid wages that allow them to put food on their own families’ tables, but also levels the playing field for small farmers who have a competitive disadvantage at the hands of the few bad actors who continue to pay inhumane wages,” said Jason Yarashes of the Legal Aid Justice Center.

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Delegate Adele McClure proudly represents the 2nd District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She is the daughter of a resilient early childhood educator and the daughter of a Filipino immigrant and veteran. Adele was raised in Northern Virginia, where her lived experiences highlighted the systemic issues facing those in poverty and made her a fierce advocate for vulnerable populations. Through this lens, Adele has worked with advocates, stakeholders, members of the General Assembly, and now as a Delegate herself, to draft, pass, and implement legislation that breaks down barriers, expands human rights, and improves access to services for people in Arlington and across the Commonwealth of Virginia. She is both the first Black person since Reconstruction and the first Asian person to represent Arlington County in the Virginia General Assembly.
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UPDATE: Also, see below for a press release from Progress Virginia on this legislation.

Historic $15 Minimum Wage Increase Will Include Farmworkers For The First Time

Richmond, Virginia—Today, we moved closer to pay equity and racial justice when the Virginia Senate voted to remove the exemptions that excluded farmworkers from earning the minimum wage. HB157, sponsored by Delegate Adele McClure, narrowly passed the Senate by a vote of 20-19 and will move to the Governor’s desk for a signature. The exemption from the minimum wage for farmworkers, which HB 157 repealed, targeted some of our community’s most vulnerable families. Farmworkers have historically suffered from poverty-level wages despite the fact that they perform some of the most difficult and dangerous work that exists.

“Farmworker exemptions are racist relics of Jim Crow designed to keep a vulnerable group of workers in poverty and in the shadows,” LaTwyla Mathias, Executive Director of Progress Virginia, said. “Farmworkers are essential workers who deserve the same respect as any other worker, and we celebrate that from here forward, they will earn at least the minimum wage, just like everyone  else. Governor Youngkin took an oath to serve everyone in our community and treat people fairly; he must sign this bill into law. All working families deserve a raise, particularly our most vulnerable, and we won’t stop fighting until we make that a reality.”

 

Background:

  • The minimum wage is currently $12.00 an hour; if bills passed in 2024 are signed into law, the minimum wage will increase to $13.50 in 2025 and $15 in 2026.
  • If the minimum wage kept up with productivity, the wage would be $21.50 per hour.
  • Farmworkers were excluded from the minimum wage when it was adopted in 1938. In 1938, most farmworkers were Black, and Southern states led the objection to extending the minimum wage to Black agricultural workers.
  • In 1966, Congress extended the federal minimum wage (currently $7.25/hr) to farmworkers, but they are still excluded from federal overtime requirements, union protections, and OSHA protections/workers’ compensation laws in many states.
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