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January 2017, Volume 23, Number 1

Midwest, Northeast, Northwest

The Environmental Protection Agency denied a request from farm organizations to delay implementation of the Worker Protection Standard from January 1, 2017 to January 1, 2018. The WPS bans those under 18 from applying pesticides, strengthens training requirements for those who work with pesticides, and requires farmers to turn pesticide information over to third parties (designated representatives) within 15 days at the request of farm worker employees.

Michigan. The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs in November 2016 ruled that farms hiring less than 500-man days of labor a quarter are not subject to the state's minimum wage law. The state's Civil Rights Commission protested, saying that the 94,000 farm workers in the state need to be protected on all farms.

Arizona. Arizona voters in November 2016 approved Prop 206, which raises the state minimum wage from $8.05 in 2016 to $12 in 2020, after which the minimum wage will rise with the cost of living. Prop 206 also requires employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees, with employers of 15 or more workers providing up to 40 hours a year and those with fewer than 15 employees 24 hours a year.

Washington. Washington voters approved Initiative 1433 in November 2016 to raise the state's minimum wage from $9.47 to $11 an hour January 1, 2017 and to $13.50 by 2020. I-1433 requires all employers to provide sick leave to their employees at the rate of one hour per 40 hours worked.

Washington had an average 96,200 farm jobs in 2015, including 54,100 seasonal farm jobs; the number of seasonal jobs peaks at 90,800 in June. Farm employment is rising with increased apple production. Harvesting cherries requires 35,000 workers and apples and pears 50,000.

Washington farmers employed a record 13,600 H-2A workers in FY16, up 15 percent from 11,800 in FY15; the AEWR was $12.69 in 2016. Apple growers reported labor shortages for both picking and packing. The apple harvest peaks in September-October, and some growers reported losing apple pickers to hops harvesting, which pays $15 an hour.

H-2A workers must stay with the employer with whom they have a contract. WAFLA says that it provides two-thirds of the H-2A workers to the state's growers; a total of 10,000 in 2016 to farm employers in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. WAFLA is evolving into a staffing agency to provide H-2A workers to farmers, handle payroll and provide in-field supervision.

Zirkle Fruit hired 2,900 H-2A workers, Gebbers Farms, 1,800, and Stemilt Growers, 750.

Bill Evans, died in December 2016. He began with 10 acres of apples in 1949, and had 8,700 acres of apples in 2016, making Evans the largest US apple grower.