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An Increase to the Minimum Wage in Virginia Currently Doesn't Apply to All Workers

Earlier this year, lawmakers passed an increase to the minimum wage in Virginia. But there's one group of low-wage workers who won’t see an increase.

When Democrats took control of the General Assembly this year, they increased the minimum wage with one exception: farm workers.

Kim Bobo at the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy says workers on big farms are covered by the federal minimum wage.

"But if they're on a very small farm with revenues under $500,000, they do not have to be paid the minimum wage at all," Bobo says. "So that means there are farm workers in Virginia who are earning $5, $6 an hour."

She says they deserve the minimum wage. But business groups disagree.

"They deserve what they're capable of earning," says Ben Rowe at the Virginia Farm Bureau. He says farm workers should be paid by how many acres are harvested or how many bushels are produced rather than how much time they labor.

"It just needs to be something that's fair for both the worker and the farmer, and having the ability to pay folks based on work done just makes much more sense for both of them," he explains.

Democrats in the House and Senate both initially agreed to get rid of the exemption during the debate over raising the minimum wage earlier this year. But then they changed their mind at the last minute. Now they'll be considering the issue again when the next General Assembly session begins in mid-January.

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.