Court Grants Injunction, Orders USDA to Produce Farm Labor Survey and Report

Judge Dale A. Drozd of the Eastern District of California granted the request of United Farm Workers, a union with over 45,000 members, for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), stopping the department from suspending the Farm Labor Survey (FLS) and the Farm Labor Report (FLR). 

The USDA announced in a September notice in the Federal Register that it was stopping the programs, causing the plaintiffs to file a lawsuit and a request for the injunction. The department later argued that it planned a new rule which would replace the survey, but the plaintiff said the information from the survey and report which were scheduled to be published in October and November respectively, was needed this year and the new rule would take too long. The order was filed on Wednesday after a hearing on the matter on October 20. 

The filing said, “the court is not persuaded that the Suspension Notice is an exercise of unreviewable agency discretion,” and that under the Agricultural Adjustment Act the agency is required to produce the data. It also said the court found that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of the claims that suspending the programs would cause harm. 

Wednesday’s order concluded that the defendants, including the USDA, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, and William Northey, USDA’s Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation, should be restrained from putting the September notice into effect and produce the documents as previously scheduled. 

The court agreed with the plaintiff’s allegations that the USDA is required to produce statistics, and that the FLS and FLR fulfill this requirement. The FLS is typically conducted in April and October collecting samples from around 35,000 farms and ranches and sharing data on wages and employment during four weeks. The data from the surveys is published in May and November in the FLR, which includes estimates of average hourly wage rates for various workers. 

Farms are allowed to hire H-2A workers, or foreign guest workers, only if the Department of Labor determines there will not be an adverse effect on the wages of U.S. workers. The survey results are reportedly used for this determination because it is the only data that comes directly from farmers. 

Judge Drozd said, “because of the hardships that the public will face if the FLS is not conducted and the DOL is unable to satisfy its current statutory and regulatory obligations, the court finds that the balance of the hardships in this case weighs in favor of granting injunctive relief.” 

The United Farm Workers are represented by Farmworker Justice and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr. Sonny Perdue, William Northerly, and the USDA are represented by the United States Department of Justice.