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Chapter 5: Farm Job Characteristics

EMPLOYER TYPE; CROPS AND TASKS; RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION; HOURS AND WAGES; BENEFITS

Summary of Findings

  • The share of workers employed by a farm labor contractor increased by 50 percent between the periods 1993-1994 and 2001-2002.
  • Wages increased in both nominal and real terms over the period 1993-2002.
  • Twenty-three percent of farm workers reported having some type of health insurance; it was an employment benefit for between eight and 12 percent of the workers.

Type of Employer

Nearly four out of five crop workers (79%) were employed directly by growers and packing firms; farm labor contractors employed the remaining 21 percent. The share of workers who were employed by farm labor contractors increased by 50 between the periods 1993-1994 and 2001-2002, from 14 to 21 percent, respectively.

In 2001-2002, 51 percent of the directly-hired workers were work authorized, down from 63 percent in 1993-1994. Similarly, 34 percent of the labor-contracted crop workers in 2001-2002 were authorized, down from 42 percent in 1993-1994 (fig. 5.1).

Figure 5.1  Legal Status by Employment Type: 1993-1994 and 2001-2002 compared.

Employment Type

Directly Hired
1993 - 1994
Authorized Crop Workers 63 percent
Unauthorized  Crop Workers 37 percent
2001 - 2002
Authorized Crop Workers 51 percent
Unauthorized Crop Workers 49 percent

Labor-Contracted
1993 - 1994
Authorized Crop Workers 42 percent
Unauthorized Crop Workers 58 percent
2001 - 2002
Authorized  Crop Workers 34 percent
Unauthorized Crop Workers 66 percent

Figure 5.1 Legal Status by Employment Type: 1993-1994 and 2001-2002 compared.

Crop and Task of Farm Jobs

At the time of the interview, 33 percent of all crop workers held jobs in fruit and nut crops. Thirty-one percent worked in vegetable crops, 18 percent in horticultural crops, 13 percent in field crops, and four percent reported working in an unclassified or 'miscellaneous' crop (table 5.1).

Table 5.1 Primary Crop at Current Farm Job

Primary Crop Type

Percentage of Hired Crop Workers

 

 

Total

100%

Fruit & nut

34%

Vegetable

31%

Horticultural

18%

Field

14%

Miscellaneous

4%

Note: Sum of portions is not equal to 100 percent because of rounding.

Workers engaged in fruit & nut, and vegetable crops were more likely than workers involved with other crops to be employed by farm labor contractors (table 5.2).

Table 5.2 Primary Crop by Employment Type

Primary

Employment Type

Crop Type

Total

Directly-hired

Labor-contracted

Fruit & nut

100%

62%

38%

Vegetable

100%

78%

22%

Horticultural

100%

99%

2%

Field

100%

92%

8%

Miscellaneous

100%

97%

3%

Note: Sum of portions may not be equal to 100 percent because of rounding.

Taking a crop from field to market encompasses a wide variety of tasks that hired crop workers perform. In 2001-2002, at the time of their interview, 16 percent of the workers were performing pre-harvest tasks, such as hoeing, thinning, and transplanting, 30 percent were doing harvest tasks, and nine percent were involved in post-harvest activities, such as field packing, sorting, and grading. Seventeen percent of the crop workers were performing technical production tasks, such as pruning, irrigating, and operating machinery[21] (table 5.3).

Table 5.3 Primary Task at Current Farm Job

Primary Task Type

Percentage of Hired Crop Workers

 

 

Total

100%

Pre-harvest

16%

Harvest

30%

Post-harvest

9%

Technical Production

17%

Other

27%

Note: Sum of portions is not equal to 100 percent because of rounding.

Workers performing pre-harvest, harvest, and technical-production tasks were more likely than those performing post-harvest and 'other' tasks to be employed by a labor contractor (table 5.4).[22]

Table 5.4 Primary Task by Employment Type

Primary

Employment Type

Task Type

Total

Directly-hired

Labor-contracted

Pre-harvest

100%

72%

28%

Harvest

100%

70%

30%

Post-harvest

100%

94%

6%

Technical Production

100%

70%

30%

Other

100%

94%

6%

Compared to all other workers in 2001-2002, foreign-born newcomers were more likely to be employed by farm labor contractors, working in a vegetable crop, and engaged in either a pre-harvest or harvest activity (table. 5.5).

Table 5.5 Job Characteristics: Foreign-born Newcomers and All Other Workers

 

Foreign-born Newcomers

All Other Workers

 

 

 

 

 

 

Percent of Crop Worker

16%

84%

Population

 

 

 

 

Total

100%

100%

Employed by FLC

30%

19%

Directly-hired

70%

81%

 

 

Primary Crop

100%

100%

     Fruit & nut

35%

33%

     Vegetable

43%

28%

     Horticultural

12%

19%

     Field

7%

15%

     Miscellaneous

3%

4%

 

 

Primary Task

100%

100%

     Pre-harvest

27%

14%

     Harvest

37%

29%

     Post-harvest

6%

10%

     Technical production

11%

18%

     Other

19%

29%

Recruitment and Retention

The majority of crop workers (69%) initially found their current job via references from friends or relatives, and a little more than a quarter (26%) had applied on their own. Three percent were recruited by a grower, foreman, or labor contractor. Less than one percent each were referred to their job by an employment service or were hired under union-employer agreements. While respondents are not asked how long it takes to find a U.S. farm job, retrospective employment and migration information reveals that 82 percent of the foreign-born crop workers obtained a farm job the same year they first entered the United States.

In 2001-2002, crop workers, including foreign-born newcomers, had been employed with their current farm employer an average of nearly four and a half years. Thirty-five percent had been working for their current employer for one year or less, and 13 percent had been employed at their current farm job for ten or more years (fig. 5.2).[23]

Figure 5.2  Number of Years Working for Current Farm Employer.

Years working for current farm employer

One or less equals 35 percent
2 -3 equals 28 percent
4 -5 equals 13 percent
6 -7 equals 7 percent
8 -9 equals 4 percent
10 plus equals 13 percent

Figure 5.2 Number of Years Working for Current Farm Employer.

The majority of workers (60%) said that their current job was seasonal; 25 percent said they worked year-round with their current employer and 15 percent were unsure . Among those who had been with their current employer for one year or less, 42 percent did not know if their farm job would be year-round or seasonal. Workers employed by farm labor contractors were more likely (72%) than those hired directly by growers and packing houses (57%) to say that their current job was seasonal. Although the likelihood of working year-round increased as the number of years with the current employer increased, nearly half (45%) of those who had worked at least ten years for their current employer reported being employed seasonally (fig. 5.3).

Figure 5.3  Seasonality of Employment by Years with Current Farm Employer.

Years with current farm employer

Seasonal
1 equals 47 percent
2 equals 75 percent
3 equals 74 percent
4 equals 75 percent
5 equals 74 percent
6 equals 67 percent
7 equals 69 percent
8 equals 65 percent
9 equals 49 percent
10 plus equals 45 percent

Year-round
1 equals 11 percent
2 equals 23 percent
3 equals 26 percent
4 equals 25 percent
5 equals 26 percent
6 equals 33 percent
7 equals 31 percent
8 equals 35 percent
9 equals 51 percent
10 plus equals 55 percent

Figure 5.3 Seasonality of Employment by Years with Current Farm Employer.

Among those who knew that their current job was seasonal, slightly more than two-thirds (68%) said that their employer notifies them when work is to resume. Notification methods included being personally contacted by a foreman or other agent (35%), telephoning (24%), being verbally advised by the employer at the end of the season (14%), receiving written correspondence (1%), and by other methods (3%).[24]

Hours Worked and Basis for Pay

NAWS respondents are asked how many hours they worked in the previous week at their current farm job. In 2001-2002, the average was 42 hours, compared to 38 in 1993-1994. In 2001-2002, approximately one quarter each worked less than 35 hours, between 35 and 40, 41 and 49, and 50 hours or more.

Agricultural employers' labor needs vary by season, crop and task, and workers are sometimes needed for longer than normal hours over short periods of time. NAWS data reflect the fluctuating nature of labor use. For example, workers performing skilled production tasks in field crops, such as preparing fields for cultivation, and irrigating, averaged 53 hours per week. Workers harvesting fruit and nut crops, on the other hand, averaged 40 hours per week. Hours worked also varied by payment type. Overall, workers paid an hourly wage averaged 43 hours per week, while workers paid by the piece averaged 36.[25]

Average hours worked in the previous week also varied by age, gender, and U.S. farm work experience. Not surprisingly, respondents ages 14 to 17 worked the fewest hours per week, averaging 36, compared to 43 for all other workers. Workers ages 45 to 54 averaged the most, at 45 hours. Males averaged 43 hours per week, compared to 39 for females. Respondents with more than 12 years of U.S. farm work experience averaged 46 hours, compared to 40 hours for those with less than four years, and 43 for those with between five and 12 years.

Seventy-nine percent of the workers reported being paid by the hour, 16 percent by the piece, three percent by a combination of hourly and piece rate pay, and two percent by salary. How workers were paid varied by crop and task. Overall, nearly a third (32%) of the workers who were employed in fruit and nut crops were paid a piece rate, compared to eight percent for workers employed in all other crops (field, vegetable, horticulture, and miscellaneous) (table 5.6). Likewise, while 43 percent of those who performed harvesting tasks were paid by the piece, only five percent of the workers who performed all other tasks (pre-harvest, post-harvest, technical production, and 'other') so reported (table 5.7).

Thirty-two percent of the labor-contracted workers were paid by the piece, compared to 12 percent of the directly hired workers. This difference, however, might be largely attributed to the crops and tasks performed by labor-contracted workers at the time of the interview: 61 percent were working in fruit and nut crops; 44 percent were doing harvest tasks. When performing the same task on the same type of crop, basis for pay did not differ between directly hired and labor-contracted workers: 56 percent of those who harvested fruit and nut crops while employed by a labor contractor were paid by the piece, compared to 59 percent of the respondents who did the same work but who were directly hired.

Table 5.6 Basis for Pay by Crop Type

Basis for Pay

Primary Crop

Total

Hourly

Piece rate

Combination

Salary

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fruit & nut

100%

61%

32%

5%

1%

Vegetable

100%

83%

13%

2%

2%

Horticulture

100%

97%

1%

0%

2%

Field

100%

83%

7%

2%

8%

Miscellaneous

100%

99%

0%

1%

0%

 

 

 

 

 

Note: Sum of portions is not equal to 100 percent for all crops because of rounding.

Table 5.7 Basis for Pay by Task Type

Basis for Pay

Primary Task

Total

Hourly

Piece rate

Combination

Salary

Pre-harvest

100%

96%

3%

0%

1%

Harvest

100%

49%

43%

8%

1%

Post-harvest

100%

96%

2%

1%

0%

Technical Production

100%

84%

13%

0%

4%

Other

100%

94%

0%

0%

6%

Note: Sum of portions is not equal to 100 percent for all tasks because of rounding.

Wages

Farm workers were paid an average of $7.25 an hour in fiscal years 2001-2002, compared to $5.52 in 1993-1994.[26] Nineteen percent were paid less than $6 per hour; 27 percent were paid between $6 and $6.74; 29 percent were paid between $6.75 and $7.99; and 25 percent were paid $8 per hour or more.

Wages varied by type of pay, i.e., by the hour or piece rate, whether employed seasonally or year-round, years with current employer, and task (table. 5.8). When paid a straight hourly wage, workers earned an average of $6.84 per hour; when paid strictly by the piece, they averaged $8.27 per hour. Year-round workers averaged nearly a dollar more per hour than seasonal workers. Among all workers, those who had worked at least six years with their current employer averaged $8.05 per hour, compared to $6.76 for those who had been with their employer for one year or less. By task, respondents whose work was classified as 'other' earned the highest average wage ($7.56). Workers who performed harvest and technical production tasks had similar average hourly earnings ($7.47 and $7.40, respectively). The relatively high average wage earned by harvest workers reflects piece rate wages. When paid strictly by the piece, harvest workers averaged $8.10 per hour.

Table 5.8 Average Hourly Earnings

Category

Earnings

Overall

$7.25

 

By the hour

$6.84

By the piece (converted to hourly)

$8.27

 

By Seasonality

 

     Seasonal

$6.96

     Year-round

$7.87

 

 

By Years with Employer

 

     up to 1

$6.76

     2 to 3

$7.14

     4 to 5

$7.38

     6 +

$8.05

 

 

By Task

 

     Pre-harvest

$6.54

     Harvest

$7.47

     Post-harvest

$6.59

     Technical production

$7.40

     Other

$7.56

Average hourly earnings increased by 25 percent in nominal dollars and by nine percent in inflation-adjusted (real) dollars over the ten-year period (single calendar years) 1993-2002 (table 5.9).[27] The increases, however, were not steady. Real hourly earnings declined between 1993 and 1996, and fell again slightly between 2000 and 2001 (fig. 5.4).

Table 5.9

Average Hourly Wages of Crop Workers,
Nominal and Real (2002) Dollars, Calendar Years 1993-2002

Nominal

 

Real*

Year

Wage

 

2002 Dollars

1993

$5.46

 

$6.69

1994

5.54

 

6.65

1995

5.72

 

6.70

1996

5.69

 

6.49

1997

5.81

 

6.49

1998

6.40

 

7.05

1999

6.54

 

7.06

2000

7.00

 

7.31

2001

7.11

 

7.22

2002**

7.30

 

7.30

* Real dollars are based on the CPI-U-RS deflator, http://www.bls.gov/cpi/cpiurstx.cfm

** The average hourly wage for 2002 is based on data from January to September.

Figure 5.4  Crop Workers' Average Hourly Wages,
	Nominal and Real (2002 Dollars), Calendar Years 1993-2002.


Nominal Wage dollars
1993 equals 5.46
1994 equals 5.54
1995 equals 5.72
1996 equals 5.69
1997 equals 5.81
1998 equals 6.40
1999 equals 6.54
2000 equals 7.00
2001 equals 7.11
2002 equals 7.30

Real 2002 Dollars
1993 equals 6.69
1994 equals 6.65
1995 equals 6.70
1996 equals 6.49
1997 equals 6.49
1998 equals 7.05
1999 equals 7.06
2000 equals 7.31
2001 equals 7.22
2002 equals 7.30

Figure 5.4 Crop Workers' Average Hourly Wages,Nominal and Real (2002 Dollars), Calendar Years 1993-2002.

Monetary Bonuses and Insurance Benefits

Twenty-two percent of crop workers said that their current farm employer gave a cash bonus as part of the compensation package; 65 percent said the employer did not, and 13 percent did not know.[28] Of the 22 percent who said that a bonus was given, 51 percent identified it as a holiday bonus, 32 percent as an end-of-season payment, 12 percent as an incentive award, five percent as a bonus contingent on employer profits, and one percent as a transportation stipend.[29]

Receiving a monetary bonus varied by seasonality of employment and employer type. Among year-round workers, 47 percent said that bonuses were given, compared to 14 percent of those who were employed seasonally. Workers who were directly hired by growers or packing houses were more likely (27%) than those who were employed by farm labor contractors (2%) to say that bonuses were given.

Although the majority of NAWS respondents are selected while working for employers with tax payment records in the unemployment insurance (UI) system database, only 39 percent of the workers interviewed in fiscal years 2001-2002 said they would receive UI benefits should they lose their job. Fifty-four percent reported that they would not receive benefits should they lose their job and eight percent did not know.[30] Of the 54 percent who reported that they would not receive UI benefits, 87 percent were unauthorized and would not qualify for the benefit even if the employer paid into the system. Workers who were employment eligible were much more likely (76%) than those who were not (4%) to report that they would receive UI benefits should they lose their job.

A larger share of workers (48%) reported that they would be covered by workers' compensation for a work-related illness or injury; 20 percent said they would not be covered, and 31 percent did not know.[31] Unauthorized workers were half as likely (33%) as authorized workers (65%) to report being covered and were twice as likely (41%) as authorized workers (20%) not to know if they were covered.

In the NAWS, crop workers are asked several questions about health insurance and their responses indicate that 1) twenty-three percent were covered by some type of health insurance in 2001-2002, and 2) the insurance was an employment benefit for between eight and 12 percent of the workers.[32]

Near the beginning of the interview, the respondent is asked if he/she has health insurance and, if so, who pays for it.[33] In 2001-2002, 23 percent reported that they were insured. Among these insured crop workers, the largest share (46%) said that their current farm employer paid for it; 19 percent said the government provided it; 15 percent reported that either they or their spouse paid for all of the insurance; 12 percent said they were covered under their spouse's employer's plan; and seven percent identified an "other" coverage source.[34]

Later in the interview, respondents are asked if their current farm employer provides insurance or pays for medical treatment for a non work-related illness or injury, regardless of whether or not the worker accepts or uses the insurance or assistance. In 2001-2002, eight percent reported that their employer offered such a benefit; 77 percent said their employer did not offer it, and 15 percent did not know.

Year-round workers were more likely than seasonal workers to have reported being covered by unemployment insurance and workers' compensation, and to say that their current farm employer either offered or provided health insurance or assistance for a non-work related illness or injury (table 5.10).

Table 5.10

Insurance Benefits: Overall and by Seasonality, with Current Farm Employer

Percent of Crop Workers Reporting Coverage by:

 

 

 

Category

Unemployment
Insurance

Workers'
Compensation

Employer
Health Plan

 

Overall

39%

48%

8%

By Seasonality

 

 

 

     Seasonal

39%

47%

5%

     Year-round

55%

62%

15%

Housing

NAWS respondents are asked about their housing situation (arrangement, location, type, and occupancy), while they are working at their current farm job. For settled (non-migrant) workers, the information likely reflects the workers' housing situation for the whole year. For those migrants who live in more than one place in a year, the information is only partial, and most often reflects "on-the-road" rather than "home-base" housing.

In 2001-2002, 58 percent of farm workers lived in housing that they rented from someone other than their employer. Twenty-one percent lived in housing that was supplied by their employer (17 percent received it free of charge and four percent paid rent either directly or via payroll deduction); 19 percent lived in housing that either they or a family member owned; and two percent lived, free of charge, with family or friends. Compared to 2001-2002, a larger share of workers in 1993-1994 lived in employer-supplied housing (33%), while a smaller share (43%), rented from a non-employer.

Migrant workers were more likely than settled workers to live in employer-supplied housing, and were less likely than settled workers to live in housing that either they or a family member owned (table. 5.11).

Table 5.11 Housing Arrangement, by Worker Type

Housing Arrangement

Total

 

Migrant

Settled

 

 

 

   

Total

100%

 

100%

100%

Rents from non-employer

58%

 

61%

56%

Employer provides for free

17%

 

27%

8%

Rents from employer

4%

 

6%

2%

Worker or worker's family owns

19%

 

4%

30%

Stays free of charge with family or friend

2%

 

1%

3%

Note: Sum of portions is not equal to 100 percent for all categories because of rounding.

In 2001-2002, 14 percent of crop workers reported living on the farm where they worked compared to 24 percent in 1993-1994. Six percent of the workers in 2001-2002 lived in employer-supplied housing that was located off the farm, and 80 percent lived in non-employer housing off the farm. Migrant workers were more likely (22%) than settled workers (8%) to have reported living on the farm where they worked (table 5.12).

Table 5.12 Housing Location, by Worker Type

Housing Location

Total

 

Migrant

Settled

     

 

 

Total

100%

100%

100%

Off-farm, non-employer administered

80%

68%

89%

Off-farm, employer administered

6%

10%

3%

On farm

14%

22%

8%

In 2001-2002, a little more than half of all crop workers (55%) reported living in some type of single family home or unit; 22 percent lived in an apartment; and 16 percent lived in a trailer or mobile home. The remaining seven percent lived in various other types of housing: three percent in dormitory or barracks type housing; two percent in a duplex or other conjoined multifamily structure; one percent in a motel or hotel; and one percent in an 'other' type of housing.

As with housing arrangement and location, migrant and settled workers differed regarding their housing types. Although migrants were as likely as settled workers to live in a trailer or mobile home (17% and 16%, respectively), they were more likely to live in dormitory or barracks type housing (6% vs. 1%) and apartments (26% vs. 20%), and were less likely than settled workers to live in a single family home or unit (47% vs. 60%) (table 5.13).

Table 5.13 Housing Type, by Worker Type

Housing Type

Total

 

Migrant

Settled

 

 

     

Total

100%

100%

100%

Single family home or unit

55%

47%

60%

Apartment

22%

26%

20%

Trailer or mobile home

16%

17%

16%

Dormitory or barracks

3%

6%

1%

Duplex / conjoined multifamily structure

2%

3%

2%

Motel / hotel

1%

1%

<1%

 

 

Note: Sum of portions is not equal to 100 percent for all categories because of rounding.

Worksite Availability of Water and Toilets

Since Fiscal Year 1999, as part of an occupational safety and health supplement, all NAWS respondents have been asked if their current farm employer provides the following items at the worksite every day: 1) drinking water and cups, 2) water for washing, and 3) a toilet. Some improvement in the provision of such facilities was realized between the periods 1999-2000 and 2001-2002 (table 5.14). In both periods, the majority of farm workers reported that their employer provided these items every day. Nonetheless, in 2001-2002 significant shares of farm workers reported that their employer did not provide, on a daily basis, both drinking water and cups (20%), water for washing (5%), and a toilet (7%).

Table 5.14 Worksite Availability of Water and Toilets

 

 

Percent of Workers Reporting

Item is Available Daily

 

 

 

Item

1999-2000

 

2001-2002

Drinking water and cups

78%

 

80%

 

 

 

Water for washing

92%

 

95%

 

 

 

Toilet

92%

 

93%

Distance to Work and Transportation

In 2001-2002, 11 percent of farm workers lived where they worked; 40 percent lived less than nine miles from their current farm job; 41 percent between 10 and 24 miles; seven percent between 25 and 49 miles; and one percent lived 50 miles or more from work.

Farm workers used various modes of transportation to get to work. The largest share (42%) drove a car, while 35 percent rode with others and eight percent walked. The remaining 15 percent were those who either rode a labor bus (8%) or got to work by riding with a paid driver, or "raitero" [35] (7%). Among the 15 percent who either rode a labor bus or went with a "raitero," 14 percent reported that they were obligated to use that means of transportation. Among those who rode with others, took the labor bus, or went with a "raitero" (50% of all workers), 71 percent paid money to someone to get to work.

Foreign-born newcomers were more likely than all other workers to get to work by either riding with someone else, going on a labor bus, or using a "raitero" (table 5.15).

Table 5.15 Transportation to Work, by Worker Type

Transportation Mode

Total

 

Foreign-born Newcomers

All Other Workers

 

 

Total

100%

100%

100%

Drives car

42%

3%

50%

Walks

8%

9%

8%

Rides in car with others

35%

60%

30%

Labor bus

8%

10%

7%

"Raitero"

7%

17%

5%

 

 

Note: Sum of portions is not equal to 100 percent for all worker types because of rounding.

Tools and Equipment

Most hired crop workers in 2001-2002 (96%) utilized tools or equipment at work. For the majority of workers who used tools or equipment, the employer paid all the costs associated with their use. Workers employed by farm labor contractors were more likely (19%) than directly hired workers (10%) to have paid all the cost for the tools and equipment they used (table 5.16).[36]

Table 5.16 Payment for Tools and Equipment, by Employment Type

           

Tools and Equipment

   

Employment Type

Paid for by

Total

 

Directly-hired

Labor-contracted

 

 

 

 

 

Total

100%

100%

100%

Worker

12%

10%

19%

Employer

84%

86%

77%

Both

3%

3%

2%

 

 

Note: Sum of portions is not equal to 100 percent because of rounding.

Chapter 4

Table of Contents

Chapter 6