US votes against minimum wage for farm workers

WASHINGTON, DC, United States (AP) – The Committee on Commerce and Labour voted against eliminating current exemptions in the law for farm workers, ending the Bill’s chances of passing this year.

The Bill previously cleared the House of Delegates on a party line 55-45 vote but met resistance along the way from agribusiness, with lobbyists arguing the Bill was unnecessary because they said farm workers are already well-compensated.

Others said the current law allows farm workers to be paid for the amount of work they complete, a system they argued was appropriate given the unique nature of agricultural work and the fact that food is perishable.

The farm worker Bill’s chief sponsor, Delaware’s Jeion Ward, urged committee members to vote in favour of the Bill, arguing that the farm worker exemption is rooted in Jim Crow-era racial discrimination laws. She said one out of every five farm workers in Virginia makes less than minimum wage.

“When we see any remnants of any Jim Crow laws we must pull them out by the roots, and that’s what this Bill does,” she said.

The Democrat-controlled General Assembly passed legislation last year that will gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2026, contingent upon lawmakers signing off on final increases again. The first increase is to take effect in May.

A year before that, lawmakers passed a Bill that repealed exemptions to Virginia’s minimum wage requirements for newsboys, shoe-shine boys, ushers, doormen and other professions, arguing those decades-old exemptions for professions that at the time typically employed black people were rooted in discrimination.

Several senators said they support eliminating the current exemption for farm workers, but said leaving the exemption in place was part of a compromise agreement from the earlier legislative session and they did not wish to go back and relitigate the agreement.