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Foreign ag workers exemption from overtime pay considered

Jerry Untiedt and John Jacobson testify for a bill that would exempt temporary or seasonal agricultural workers with an H-2A visa from overtime requirements. Rep. Joe McDonald, right, sponsors the bill. Photo by Andrew VonBank

Debate over a proposal to exempt temporary and seasonal foreign agriculture workers from Minnesota overtime requirements Tuesday focused on their benefit for employers versus their inherent regulatory cost.

HF2974 would eliminate state requirements that H-2A visa workers be provided time-and-a-half overtime pay for hours exceeding 48 hours per week. Federal regulation requires overtime pay after 40 hours, but exempts agricultural workers.

The House Agriculture Policy Committee approved the bill and referred it to the House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee. A companion, SF3066, sponsored by Sen. Matt Schmit (DFL-Red Wing), awaits action by the Senate Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee.

H-2A workers are only allowed to perform agricultural work in the U.S. on a temporary basis and only after the employer certified there aren’t enough American workers available or willing to perform the work.

Rep. Joe McDonald (R-Delano), who sponsors the bill, said employers originally thought the federal exemption applied but learned differently a few months ago. He believes the proposal will benefit Minnesota.

“It’s good for growers. It’s good for producers. It’s good for workers,” McDonald said.

He said federal requirements for H-2A workers drive up labor costs. Employers must fly the workers both ways, providing housing up to federal standards and even provide some per diem funds.

The benefits far exceed any possible overtime funds, McDonald said.

Waverly farmer Jerry Untiedt testified in favor of the bill on behalf of the Minnesota Growers Coalition. He said foreign workers are essential for difficult crops, such as raspberries and apples, and there are few alternatives available.

Citinghis family’s experience, he said the employers and these workers frequently forge a strong friendship. His family has even hired second-generation workers.

“These people are a lifeline. And they become family,” Untiedt said.

Labor and Industry Commissioner Ken Peterson said there are some valid issues with foreign worker costs but urged committee members to vote against the bill. He said it would create a troubling precedence where the unemployment exemption is based on country of origin instead of type of work performed.

“I’m not saying it’s unconstitutional. But it’s a bad road to go down,” Peterson said.

Bernie Hesse, who spoke on behalf of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, opposed the bill over concerns temporary workers would lose rights and could be vulnerable to exploitation.


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