The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) published a notice in the Federal Register on September 30, stating that it was suspending the Farm Labor Survey (FLS) and the biannual Farm Labor Report (FLR), documents it has reportedly published for over 100 years. On Tuesday, the United Farm Workers filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of California claiming that this action was a breach of the USDA’s duties.
The complaint said that the 2.5 million farmworkers in the United States “produce the nation’s food supply” and “are essential to ensure continuity of food that American’s consume every day,” however, they are susceptible to job loss or wage decline and often have seasonal jobs or positions that are “vulnerable to economic shocks to agricultural markets.” The surveys published by the USDA reportedly provide the “premier source” for information about agricultural labor markets and hiring and wage information for United States Farms.
United Farm Workers said the “USDA provided no rationale for the FLS’s suspension and invited no public comment,” but rather announced that it determined the data could be found by the public through other means. The group said that the “USDA did not consider the detrimental impact its decision would have on farmworker wages.”
The plaintiff alleged that the decision to discontinue the FLS and the FLR will cause significant wage cuts among farmworkers, which will have effects throughout the farm labor market. The plaintiff said that the FLS is the only source for national farm labor data about wages and employment, and other sources would not have accurate data. The information is reportedly necessary for farmworker assistance programs and calculating the prices used in government economic programs and in calculating minimum wages for the Department of Labor’s H-2A agricultural guestworker program. The information is also reportedly used by other federal, state, and private entities for various programs.
The complaint stated “the FLS has for over 100 years been a critical and unique component of the government’s efforts to collect data on agricultural labor markets.” The United Farm Workers are seeking through the legal action for the court to vacate the USDA’s decision to discontinue the FLS and FLR and a restraining order and order for injunctive relief preventing the defendants from not publishing the November 2020 report, based on the survey.
The plaintiff, represented by Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, is a union which includes over 45,000 members, who are both U.S. Citizens and participants in the temporary foreign worker program. The defendants include the USDA, Sonny Purdue the USDA Secretary of Agriculture, and William Northey, the USDA’s Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation.
A hearing on a temporary restraining order in the matter will be heard by Judge Dale Drozd on October 20.