Virginia Senate Rejects Farm Worker Minimum Wage Bill

Feb 22, 2021

Senate Democrats are rejecting an effort to guarantee a minimum wage to farm workers.

One out of five farm workers do not make the minimum wage, according to an analysis from the Commonwealth Institute. That's a statistic that worries Delegate Jeion Ward, a Democrat from Hampton, which is why she introduced a bill to ditch the long-standing exemption in Virginia law for farm workers.

Credit AP Photo / Keith Srakocic

"We are here today, I hope, to uproot a Jim Crow relic, and I don't say that to be controversial," Ward says. "I don't say that to provoke. I say that because it's true because we've got to acknowledge the history to move us forward."

Senate Democrats considered getting rid of that exemption last year, and they decided against it in a closed-door conference committee. Now Senator Scott Surovell, a Democrat from Fairfax County, says he opposes requiring the minimum wage for farm workers because of what happened last year.

"While I personally support the policy reflected in this bill, if we're going to come back and re-litigate every single compromise, major compromise, we make every session," he explains. "We're going to keep doing this again and again and again on this and other bills."

Senate Democrats rejected this year’s House bill requiring the minimum wage for farm workers, but many advocates say they'll be back at it again next year.

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