Did you know that in Virginia, farm wages can make our minimum wage seem downright generous? I was shocked to learn that some employers take advantage of the fact that agricultural workers, the majority of whom are Black and Brown, are exempt from Virginia’s new Minimum Wage Act. Even if our state minimum wage increases, they would remain at the lower federal minimum wage. Farmworkers have labored tirelessly during the pandemic to ensure that our families have food to eat and often they’re not even earning a fair wage. It is past time to eliminate this racist loophole and ensure that all of us can earn fair wages and thrive in our communities.
Farmworkers in Virginia Make Below the Minimum Wage
Over 6,000 immigrant workers come to Virginia every year to harvest crops and live in camps on the farms. On the high end, farmworkers make $17,500 per year with no benefits. They don’t have access to overtime pay, health insurance, paid sick leave, or maternity leave. These workers are the backbone of Virginia’s largest private industry. They deserve protection from corporate interests, and they deserve a fair, livable wage.
Virginia’s Farmworkers Minimum Wage Is Rooted In Racism
I don’t think this will shock anyone, but the farmworkers’ minimum wage exemption is rooted in racism. White southerners built an agriculture-based economy by enslaving and exploiting Black and Brown laborers. After abolishing slavery, Southern Democrats still needed votes from white farm owners. Those farmers profited by exploiting Black labor called ‘sharecroppers.’ When Congress passed minimum wage and other labor protections in the 1930s, they excluded farmworkers to protect the racist profiteering of white farmers.
Virginia needs to step up and protect our most vulnerable workers. We have the opportunity to end this Jim Crow era remnant. The farmworker exemption needs to be removed immediately, ensuring that farmworkers earn at least the minimum wage. It is the very least we can do.
Call your legislator today and demand that they support ending the farmworker minimum wage loophole.