In the same year that it declared them “essential workers” amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration has published a rule that would freeze wages for hundreds of thousands of seasonal farm workers for two years. Their advocates called the decision, published by the Department of Labor (DOL) last week, “unconscionable and utterly devoid of a valid justification.”
But what should also be noted is that in addition to harming the livelihoods of the farm workers who feed America, the rule stands to financially benefit the Trump family. Because of course. “One operation that could benefit directly from the new policy is the Trump family’s vineyard in Charlottesville, Virginia, which has employed foreign workers on H-2A visas in the past,” HuffPost reports. “The president’s second-eldest son, Eric Trump, owns Trump Winery.”
“Under the new regulation, employers will be able to hire guestworkers in unlimited numbers at the frozen wage rates during 2021 and 2022,” Farmworker Justice said. “Under the H-2A program, if a U.S. farmworker applies for the job, he or she can be rejected for demanding a higher wage than the required minimum.” But the group said that when the freeze is scheduled to end in 2023, workers will not see the higher wages they would have been entitled to.
“DOL selected a formula that is intentionally likely to result in lower wage rate increases than if the current system were in place,” the group continued. Bruce Goldstein, the organization’s president, said “[f]armworkers are among the lowest-paid workers in the nation, generally earning poverty-level wages, but this policy will stop the modest progress that many farmworkers have experienced recently.”
And of course it’ll stand to personally benefit the Trump family through its Virginia vineyard. “If the new regulation goes into effect, employers like Trump Winery may not have to increase their pay rates for H-2A workers over the next two growing seasons, even though they likely would have under the status quo,” HuffPost reported. The outlet “asked the Labor Department if it was concerned about the conflict of interest such a rule creates for the White House. A spokesperson had not commented as of Tuesday afternoon.”
I think we know the answer to that one. The Trump Organization has also hired and exploited undocumented immigrants at the winery as Trump has spent years shamelessly attacking them for political gain. “Univision News interviewed seven undocumented employees who claim to have worked producing Trump wine in the state of Virginia, putting in long hours from sunrise to sunset, without overtime pay,” the outlet reported last year.
The Trump Organization last year also fired a number of undocumented workers at the winery—but not until after the harvest was over, The Washington Post reported. Some of the workers had been employed there for years. “They didn’t make this decision in the summer because they needed us a lot then,” tractor driver Omar Miranda told the Post. “I think they wanted to get their product out well, the grapes, to make sure that was taken care of, and once things were slow, they could fire us all,” said a second worker.
Goldstein told HuffPost that while the incoming Biden administration can start to reverse the rule—joining the hundreds of other policy changes the new president will have to dig into—it’ll likely still kick in for the 2021 season. “He said the Trump administration was likely moving as quickly as possible with the rule before being forced out of office,” the report continued. In these last weeks of the administration, it’s also lengthened the U.S. citizenship test in order to make it harder to pass.
“The government has designated farmworkers as essential workers; they’re expected to work during a pandemic,” Goldstein told HuffPost. “The federal government refused to mandate safety standards to protect farmworkers and others against COVID-19. Now the administration is punishing farmworkers by effectively cutting their wage rates. It’s just cruel and unreasonable.”