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Massachusetts Minimum Wage Rises, But Not For Some Farm Workers

A hayfield in Shelburne, Massachusetts.
Nancy Eve Cohen
Bales of hay on a western Massachusetts farm.

The minimum wage in Massachusetts goes up a buck to $12 an hour starting January 1, 2019. But there's a group of workers who won't get that increase. 

The laws around farm labor are complicated. Wage minimums change depending on a worker's exact duties, as well as the farm's participation in a guest worker visa program.

But there's a segment of farm workers in Massachusetts who get $8 an hour. That's $4 less than the minimum for other work.

"I think there is a huge sense of inequity," said Andrea Schmid, an organizer with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center who is starting to organize a group of workers to push for higher wages. "Thinking about western Massachusetts, and just how mch people pride themselves on the small farms we have here, and the local economy we have here, but don't think about the labor that goes into creating that, and producing that food."

While there is no mandated increase in farm wages in 2019, they may be driven up by higher wages elsewhere in the economy.

Phil Korman is executive director of Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, an organization that works with small farms in the region.

"What we've heard from our farmers, in general, is that the marketplace is going to be putting them in a position where they are going to be paying more for the labor that they have on their farms," Korman said.

Korman said the inequity in the farm minimum wage is something everyone in society needs to address, along with what he called a "broken national food system."

"At some point, we're going to have to figure out a way that all of us are able to pay more for our food without having other people go hungry," he said. "And we need to make sure that that increased income coming to the farmer also is enabling everyone who works on a farm to make a living."

The state and federal rules around which farm workers are eligible for certain protections, specifically overtime pay, is the subject of a court case now before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

Sam Hudzik has overseen local news coverage on New England Public Media since 2013. He oversees a team of about a dozen full- and part-time reporters and hosts.
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