Iowa

Who Are Iowa's Farmworkers?

Information

Who are Iowa's Farmworkers?
Every year thousands of farmworkers are hired in Iowa. Many of these workers do not live in Iowa. They come from places like Mexico, Texas and other states. Many speak Spanish and have limited English skills. Iowa Legal Aid's goal is to make sure that the farmworker communities receive equal access to justice while living and working in the State of Iowa.

Who are migrant farmworkers?
Under the Iowa Code, a migrant worker is any person who usually and often travels from state to state to work seasonal jobs in agriculture, including their spouse and children, whether or not authorized by law to work in such job. Contrary to belief, many migrant farmworkers are U.S. Citizens or legal permanent residents. Workers who come from other states or who live far and need to sleep away from their home are also migrant workers.

Why do Iowa farmers hire migrant workers?
Sometimes, there are not enough people in the area to work on the farm land, so farmers rely on workers outside of Iowa.

What type of jobs do migrant farmworkers do?
Iowa farms hire workers to harvest, detassel, walk beans, and process corn; work in egg production and hog confinements; and work on crops such as cucumbers, potatoes, soy beans, melons, apples, flowers, greenhouses, bee and honey production, and more.

What laws protect migrant farmworkers?
The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (AWPA or MSPA) protects farmworkers. This act was passed by Congress in 1982 and requires farmers who hire workers to comply with labor laws even when the farmers rely on labor contractors. Duties are now imposed onto farmers, labor contractors, packers and other agricultural enterprises.

Why did Congress make a law to protect farmworkers?
Previous laws aimed to end historic patterns of abuse and exploitation of farmworkers and farmers by the regulation of labor contractors were not successful, so Congress passed a new law: the AWPA. New requirements for farmers, labor contractors, packers and other agricultural enterprises include: advanced disclosure of work terms and conditions, employer compliance with work arrangements and wage obligations, complete and accurate record keeping and pay statements, transportation safety, housing health and safety standards, and licensing.

What is a migrant farmworker paid?
Under the AWPA, migrant farmworkers get the wage they were "promised" when they were recruited or hired. The wage cannot be less than the higher state minimum wage or federal minimum wage established by the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA). Today, the federal minimum wage and Iowa minimum wage are both $7.25 an hour.

What is an H-2A worker?
Farmworkers are either H-2A, migrant, or seasonal. Farmers can hire foreign workers for a temporary or seasonal basis, or up to 10 months per year. An employer must show a good faith effort that they tried to hire U.S. workers; that they have proper housing and that they meet other program requirements. With the permission of the U.S. Department of Labor, authorized foreign workers receive an H-2A Visa.

What is an H-2A worker paid?
An employer must pay at least the current wage under the Adverse Effect Wage Rate, established by the U.S. Department of Labor. In 2010, the Adverse Effect Wage Rate for H-2A workers in Iowa is $10.86 an hour.

What is a seasonal worker?
In addition to migrant and H-2A farmworkers, Iowa has thousands of low-income seasonal farmworkers. A seasonal farmworker is a person who is employed in agriculture labor but is unemployment or underemployment for long periods of time during the year. Seasonal workers must receive at least the higher of the federal or state minimum wage. In Iowa, seasonal workers must be paid at least $7.25 an hour.

What legal issues do farmworkers face?
Some civil legal issues farmworkers may face include, but are not limited to, poor work conditions, healthcare, public benefit denials, education, poor housing conditions, labor camp violations, domestic abuse, harassment, discrimination and wage claim disputes.

Examples of legal issues may include, but are not limited to:

  • Farmer does not have water or bathrooms available in field for workers
  • Housing has poor drain system, exposed wires, and other safety issues
  • Problems with crew leader/crew leader treats migrant workers different than other non-migrant workers
  • Problems with transfer of public benefits from state to state, or needing extra food stamps upon arrival in Iowa
  • If paid by bushel, not receiving at least the minimum wage average per hour
  • School does not let child register for classes

How can Iowa Legal Aid help migrant, H-2A or seasonal farmworkers?
Farmworkers face many challenges while working, from dangerous work conditions such as heat and exhaustion to not receiving proper pay to public benefit denials. Iowa Legal Aid helps by giving legal advice and/or representation in some civil legal matters that affect the farmworker. Iowa Legal Aid interns and lawyers travel around the state to give presentations to farmworkers about their rights and responsibilities while living and working in Iowa. If you have any questions or if you need legal assistance, you may call Iowa Legal Aid at 1-800-532-1275, hablamos español.