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The Maryland Department of Labor (MDOL) has started conducting the 2021 Agricultural Employment Surveys (AES), beginning May 17th and continuing until early October. The results will provide an inside look at Maryland’s prevailing wages and employment practices for agricultural jobs within the state by sector - useful information for those employers preparing agricultural job offers.
Agricultural employment is a complex undertaking that requires employers to consider which wage to offer and factor in other services, such as providing transportation and housing, using farm labor contractors, etc. Access to prevailing wage and practice data can help farm employers competitively recruit and retain the best workers. Likewise, producers looking to expand their operation or diversify can benefit from reviewing survey reports to understand the regional employment trends they will need to conform with to provide attractive employment opportunities.
The AES is normally done in-person through farm visits by Maryland Department of Labor (MDOL) representatives. However, social distancing measures over the last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic have led to changes in survey administration. MDOL has switched to a phone and mailing campaign. The surveys for wages and practices are two separate forms that ask for information by sector (crop) and state region. Maryland has three regions: Central, Eastern Shore, and Western. Farmers will receive copies of the survey via mail that can be filled out and mailed back to the MDOL. Options to send responses back via e-mail, fax, and telephone are also available this year.
To date, MDOL plans to begin phone surveys for the following crops and regions during the dates in the table provided.
The state-run AES helps establish prevailing wages and prevailing, or normal and common, practices in agriculture by asking for information about the number of U.S. and H-2A workers; average productivity and earnings of piece rate workers; variables affecting rates and hiring practices; experience standards, and more. Prevailing wages can be piece rates or hourly wages. Prevailing practices are those practices engaged in by employers, that fifty percent or more of employers in an area and for an occupation engage in the practice or offer the benefit, which can include the provision of family housing, frequency of wage payments, providing advance transportation, and the utilization of labor contractors.
Farm employers seeking certification to employ H-2A workers must offer and pay the higher of the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR), the prevailing wage in the area, or the federal or state minimum wage. The AEWR is usually the highest of these wages and covers a range of farm jobs in a state or multistate region, however, employers should still check the prevailing wage applicable to their particular operation and location.
State results are submitted and assessed by the Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) to decide whether they can make a prevailing wage determination. Anonymized reports with previous year data for wages can be found online in the Agricultural Online Wage Library (AWOL) and for practices in the Agricultural Employment Practice Survey Library.
States often struggle to get farmers to participate, and a decreasing number of states continue to conduct prevailing wage and practices surveys. For many commodities, there is “no finding” because the state workforce agency did not conduct surveys or did not obtain data from a sufficient number of employers and workers. However, when there is sufficient participation the results can offer producers meaningful insight into what their regional hiring trends are and help them know when a job order, wage, and position requirements will be acceptable under the Foreign Labor Certification program requirements.
Successful survey efforts depend on farmer participation; the greater the participation, the better the integrity of the results. According to Norton Pereira, the State Rural Services Coordinator at the MDOL, “Maryland has a solid reputation in not only doing them every year but also getting meaningful results. We would like to continue that tradition with farmers’ help.”
For more information or to submit questions about the Maryland surveys, contact Norton Pereira at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (301) 326-6006.