Bill to make farmworkers eligible for minimum wage killed

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia Senate committee on Monday killed a measure that would have made Virginia’s minimum wage requirements apply to farmworkers.
The Committee on Commerce and Labor voted against eliminating current exemptions in the law for farmworkers, ending the bill’s chances of passing this year.
The bill previously cleared the House of Delegates on a party line 55-45 vote, but met resistance along the way from agribusiness, with lobbyists arguing the bill was unnecessary because they said farmworkers are already well-compensated.
Others said the current law allows farm workers to be paid for the amount of work they complete, a system they argued was appropriate, given the unique nature of agricultural work and the fact that food is perishable.
The farm worker bill’s chief sponsor, Del. Jeion Ward, urged committee members to vote in favor of the bill, arguing that the farmworker exemption is rooted in Jim Crow-era racial discrimination laws. She said one out of every five farmworkers in Virginia makes less than minimum wage.
“When we see any remnants of any Jim Crow laws, we must pull them out by the roots, and that’s what this bill does,” she said.
The Democrat-controlled General Assembly passed legislation last year that will gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2026, contingent upon lawmakers signing off on final increases again. The first increase is to take effect in May.
A year before that, lawmakers passed a bill that repealed exemptions to Virginia’s minimum wage requirements for newsboys, shoe-shine boys, ushers, doormen and other professions, arguing those decades-old exemptions for professions that at the time typically employed Black people were rooted in discrimination.
Several senators said they support eliminating the current exemption for farmworkers, but said leaving the exemption in place was part of a compromise agreement from the earlier legislative session and they did not wish to go back and re-litigate the agreement.