On Tuesday, the House of Delegates passed Delegate Jeion Ward’s (D-Hampton) HB1786, a bill that would remove an exemption that allows farmers to pay farm employees less than Virginia’s minimum wage.
Currently, the Code of Virginia states that farm employees do not meet the definition of employee for minimum wage purposes.” ‘Employee’ includes any individual employed by an employer. ‘Employee’ includes a home care provider. ‘Employee’ does not include the following: 1. Any person employed as a farm laborer or farm employee.”
HB1786 would delete the farm laborer and farm employee exemption. The bill passed 55 to 44 and is now in committee in the Senate.
Virginia’ minimum wage currently matches the federal rate of $7.25 per hour but is scheduled to rise to $9.50 in May and will continue to climb over the coming years. Ward also sponsored that minimum wage bill.
Webert is from a farming family and helps manage his family’s Locust Hills Farm, according to his bio. Webert said the average Virginia farm is 181 acres — not an industrial-sized business. As small, family-run operations, Webert said some farms would struggle to meet the new requirement.
However, in subcommittee, Ward said, “This bill does not hurt small farms.”
She said four out of five farms already pay more than the minimum wage. “This bill is designed to protect the relatively small number of workers who do not receive minimum wage,” she said.
“As is always true in regard to minimum wage laws, House Bill 1786 assumes the large-scale business is the standard, takes in obscene profit, and treats its employees unfairly,” Webert wrote. “Regulating the wages of farmhands who work on farms like these, without even considering any informal benefits of the job, will destroy many farmers, their families, and their farmhands’ livelihoods.
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