Georgia Labor Relations Forum – Mark Your Calendar

The Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Association (GFVA) has held their Labor Forum in November for several years. This year, they’ve moved it to August. Since November is bad for most row crop producers and of course ginners, this move is quite welcome. It should allow more of our members to attend.

Andy and I have attended this forum for a number of years and have been sponsors for some time. We hope you’ll take some time to check out the web site and consider registering for the Forum. Although it is targeted at H-2A users, both H-2A and non-H-2A employers will find something in this program. As the program develops, the site will include the speakers and topics.

Mark your calendars today and see the attached Flyer.

Administrative and Executive Overtime Exemption Just Got Harder

Last week, the Biden administration announced changes to the Wage and Hour rules regarding exemptions from overtime. Many employers put administrative and executive type employees on salary and expect them to be exempt from overtime. Salaried doesn’t necessarily mean they are exempt on its own. These new rules will make that exemption a good bit harder to take and could significantly affect our members.

As mentioned above just because you pay an employee a salary it doesn’t mean that they are automatically exempted from overtime. It is possible to pay someone overtime when they are on salary but that is beyond the scope of this article.

The most common “misclassification” violation we have seen in gins over the years is claiming an employee is exempt from overtime when they are not. In order for the executive or administrative employee to be exempt from overtime they must meet two things. The first is the duties of the job must meet the exempt duties and they must be paid above a certain amount on a salary basis. The duties have not changed and can be found in the Fact Sheets HERE.

What has changed is the minimum weekly salary that these employees must be paid in order to qualify even if they meet the duties of executive, or administrative work. Beginning July 1, 2024, employees must make $844 per week or $43,888 per year and starting January 1, 2025, employees must make $1,128 per week or $58,656 per year. The next change will be determined by the department by a formula by July,1 2027.

What does this mean? Many gins use the executive or administrative exemption for key office and gin employees. Careful consideration of these new pay levels in combination with the duties found in the Fact Sheet 17 linked above must be given. It is very easy to mis-classify a worker as exempt when they’re not and this rule makes it that much harder.

Wage and Hour’s Page on New Rule

You can find information on paying a non-exempt worker a salary. It can be done but it takes some planning. Search the internet for “salaried non-exempt” or “calculate overtime for salaried employee” and you’ll find a lot of articles by attorneys and HR professionals on how to navigate those waters.

DSF

New Farm Labor Survey Released – H-2A Wages will increase in January

The Department of Labor uses the USDA NASS Farm Labor survey to develop the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) for H-2A purposes. For many years the average wage in the FLS has become the AEWR for the following calendar year. The reason for the AEWR is that in the law that established the H-2A program, it says that the importation of workers shall not have an ‘adverse effect’ on local wages. The agency uses this survey to make sure the wages will not be impacted by bringing foreign workers in and displacing local workers with ‘cheaper’ foreign workers.

The FLS is conducted over the course of a year by the National Ag Statistics Service (NASS). NASS has been collecting this data for many decades. It is not collected for the purpose of use by the DoL and DoL has no influence on how the survey is conducted. It is more targeted (more surveys done) than the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Employment Wage Survey (OEWS) in the agricultural community and is ‘thought’ to be a better representation of the ag community as a whole.

The Survey shows an increase in most Southeastern states of about a dollar per hour (See Table). The new wages will kick in when the DoL publishes them in the Federal Register. This will likely be right at the end of the year. Watch your inbox or keep up with your agent or contractor for exactly when the higher wages are due.

20232024
Alabama13.6714.68
Florida14.3314.77
Georgia13.6714.68
North Carolina14.9115.81
South Carolina13.6714.68
Virginia14.9115.81

We have a lot of problems with just using the FLS as the only means to determine the AEWR. The Farm Labor Survey, as mentioned before was not designed as a survey for AEWR purposes. NASS does not discriminate between H-2A users and non-users. Workers in corresponding employment or neighbors can be influenced by the H-2A wage locally. More H-2A workers are being employed today than ever before. Additionally, the FLS does not take into account any of the other expenses that go a long with the program such as inbound and outbound transportation, housing, meals (in some instances) and in the case of more and more states, overtime for farm workers. While the FLS may capture more workers in ag than the OEWS and may be a better statistical representation of pure wage it does NOT take into account the expense to the employer (effective wage on the employer).

We will have more information as it comes out.

DSF

House Ag Committee creates Working Group on Farm Labor and Immigration

Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson announced this week the creation of a working group in the House Agriculture Committee to look at the challenges facing farm labor. The group is made up of 14 Ag Committee members with co-chairs from both sides of the aisle.

Rick Crawford from Arkansas and Don Davis from North Carolina will act as co-chairs. Beside Chairman Davis, David Rouser from North Carolina will also represent our region on the working group.

The Group will be looking primarily at the H-2A program and gathering input from users and potential users to help make recommendations to reform the program. The committee will return a report to the committee. The Judiciary Committee is the committee that typically handles immigration issues. The last immigration reform legislation failed to move in the Senate after the House twice passed the Farmworker Modernization Act. Southeastern Cotton Ginners did not have a position on that legislation.

More information on the working group can be found on the House Ag Committee site at https://agriculture.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=7659

DSF

Three-Day Safety Seminar Scheduled

We wanted to let everyone know that we’ve scheduled a Three-Day Safety seminar for early August in Tifton. The cost is $300 per person and the sessions are targeted at front line supervisors that will be conducting training and not necessarily managers. If you know you’d like to sign up, here’s the link. If you’d like more detail read on.

SAFETY SEMINAR REGISTRATION

While cotton gins are considered Agriculture in the eyes of OSHA, warehouses are not. OSHA requires all lift truck drivers in cotton warehouses to be properly trained as part their safety program. Prior to the pandemic, the Safety and Insurance committee recommended that we hold Train-the-trainer programs for those members that wanted to have Trainers on staff. We had held a couple of them in 2019 with good success

We contacted the company we’ve been working with on these trainings and worked with them to expand the program. They developed a Three-Day Program that covers several general safety topics and includes the Train-the-Trainer for lift trucks and elevated work platforms.

Since this program was developed relatively recently, we will only hold one such program this year but plan on doing at least one and possibly 2 next year based on participation.

This program is targeted at the front-line supervisors and trainers that have the most influence on the crews. These are the ones conducting the training either formally or on-the-job as most of our ‘training’ tends to be. This is not a purely “rules and regs” but a practical ‘why’ kind of training on many general safety topics but it includes the Train-the-Trainer on lift trucks and powered elevated work platforms. Participants will leave with the knowledge and materials to train their own employees in accordance with OSHA’s regs.

Space is limited to 25 participants. Lunch will be provided for two days. The session will be at the Micro-Gin at the University of Georgia in Tifton August 9-11. The address is in the EventBrite sign-up. Please follow this link above for registration or click here for more details.

DSF

Statement on Recent Wage and Hour Activity

A week ago, January 10, 2022, the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor posted a press release stating that 80 percent of gins investigated owed back wages or penalties for non-compliance with Labor Laws. Articles citing this press release have been published in newspapers and trade publications, large and small.

On January 12, we released the statement below. It is never any of our members intent to break the rules. Labor laws and rules governing agricultural labor are complex and often hard to understand. We are working with the Wage and Hour division and others on improving compliance among our members. Please give us a call if you have any questions regarding our statement.