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Virginia Minimum Wage: Should it Extend to Farm Workers?

Governor Ralph Northam is now considering hundreds of bills the General Assembly sent him last month, including one that raises the minimum wage.

Farm workers are not guaranteed the minimum wage. And even though the General Assembly passed a bill this year that raises the minimum wage – that does not apply to agricultural workers.

Kim Bobo with the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy says the history of this exemption dates back to the racist days of Jim Crow, and that it’s more important now more than ever for the governor to amend the bill and get rid of that exemption. 

“Right now while the [Department of] Homeland Security is defining farm workers as essential workers," Bobo says. "We believe what more important time, if they are essential workers, than at the minimum they should be covered by Virginia’s minimum wage.”

But Ben Rowe at the Virginia Farm Bureau says the exemption is important for helping farmers and farm workers, who get paid by bushels harvested, vines planted and acres cleared.  

“So this is a benefit to the farmer because it means that if someone comes out and just sits on a five-gallon bucket all day, they’re not being highly compensated for that time," he explains. "On the flip side for farm workers this is a huge benefit because if they work harder and they harvest more they’re able to make more money.”

The governor has until April 11th to make a decision about what kinds of amendments he might want to make to the bill.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.
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