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July 2017, Volume 23, Number 3
Midwest, Northeast, Northwest
Colorado. Over the past decade, Weld county farmers have complained of labor shortages. Crop farmers with seasonal jobs turned to the H-2A program, complaining that labor costs rose 25 percent because of the need to provide housing and to pay workers for at least three-fourths of the hours the employer promised. Greeley-area dairy farmers, who say they need one worker for every 70 cows, are not allowed to hire H-2A guest workers because the jobs they offer are not seasonal.
Michigan. Michigan Farm Bureau created an H-2A provider, Great Lakes Agricultural Labor Services LLC in 2014, that charges farm employers $1,600 per H-2A worker for recruitment and related services. GLALS says that it will recruit 1,700 H-2A workers for 35 farms in 2017.
Ohio. Vegetable farmers in the north-central city of Willard planned to welcome returning seasonal workers in spring 2017, but local opposition prompted organizers to drop the planned party. Farmers wait anxiously for workers to return, and some fear that talk of stepped-up immigration enforcement may lead to farm labor shortages.
New York. Worker advocates are trying to enact the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act (S2727/A4189) to grant farm workers union organizing rights and overtime pay. The bill routinely passes the Assembly, but has been blocked in the Senate.
Vegetable farmer Maureen Torrey in Genesee county hires 200 H-2A workers from Mexico. Torrey met with Trump and reported that the immigration enforcement crackdown is scaring even legal workers, some of whom are afraid to leave the farms where they work for fear of being harassed by police and immigration agents.
Pennsylvania. The 50 growers who produce over 40 percent of US mushrooms in Pennsylvania's Chester County are raising wages in response to fewer workers, from $0.80 to $1 per five-pound box picked. Growers say that good pickers average 60 to 100 pounds per hour and can earn $15 an hour or more. Pennsylvania supplies about two-thirds of US mushrooms.
Arizona. G Farms in El Mirage was accused in May 2017 of housing Mexican H-2A workers in substandard housing. G Farms moved the workers from trailers into motels, but began charging the workers, a violation of regulations requiring employers to provide free and approved housing to guest workers. The Arizona AEWR in 2017 is $10.95 an hour; G Farms reportedly paid piece rates to harvest onions of $0.13 to $0.70 a bag.
DOL obtained a preliminary injunction to require improved housing at G Farms, signaling a tougher posture to enforce H-2A regulations. G Farms says that it switched from motel rooms to buses that had been converted for housing as a temporary measure.
Washington. Washington is known for its apples and cherries. The value of the three million tons of apples from 148,000 acres in 2015 was $2.4 billion, and the value of 223,000 tons of sweet cherries from 35,000 acres was $437 million. The value of 419,000 tons of grapes, most of which are used to make wine, from 70,000 acres was $297 million.
The 2016 apple crop was 133 million 40-pound boxes, over half red delicious (40 million boxes) and galas. The average price for a medium-sized box of red delicious with 80 apples in spring 2017 was about $12, or $0.30 a pound; growers say that their breakeven price is $15 a box. Abundant Robotics developed a mechanical apple harvester that picked 95 percent of Galas on test trees in 2016.
Washington (225,000 tons) and California (100,000 tons) supply three-fourths of the sweet cherries grown in the US. Washington cherry growers in June 2017 complained of too few workers. With a record crop of 23 million 20-pound boxes expected, up from 21 million boxes in 2016, Oregon and Washington growers scrambled for workers to pick and pack cherries.
Broetje Orchards, with 5,000 acres in southeastern Washington, is the largest grower in the state that does not use H-2A guest workers. Broetje employs 2,200 workers for the cherry harvest and 4,000 for the apple harvest. Orchard View Farms, with 2,400 acres of cherries in the Dalles, Oregon, also relies on 1,100 US workers who earn $20 an hour at prevailing piece rates; many of Orchard View's workers migrate from California.
Washington also has a berry industry, with 1,000 acres of strawberries, 9,000 acres of red raspberries and 11,000 acres of blueberries in 2015. The price per pound has been climbing, to an average $1.12 for strawberries in 2015, $1.22 for red raspberries, and $1.41 a pound for blueberries, making the farm value of these crops $7.8 million, $89 million, and $147 million, that is, all three berries were worth almost $244 million.
The 2012 COA reported 614 strawberry farms with 1,500 acres, including two farms with 100 acres or more or an average 175 acres each. There were 750 red raspberry growers with 10,500 acres, and 823 blueberry growers with 8,900 acres, including 22 who each had 100 acres or more. These 22 large blueberry growers had a total of 6,000 acres, or an average 275 acres.
Sakuma Brothers negotiated a collective bargaining agreement with Familias Unidas por las Justicia in June 2017 covering 500 workers on the 700-acre berry farm. Sakuma pays piece-rate wages to its berry harvesters, and says that workers averaged $17 an hour in 2016. Sakuma became the third Washington farm with a union contract. The UFW represents workers at Chateau Ste Michelle Winery in Woodinville and feedlot Beef Northwest in Quincy.
DeRuyter Brothers Dairy, a 6,000 cow operation with 1,000 acres of land, was sold in spring 2017. Columbia Legal Services sued DeRuyter for failure to pay overtime to its 80 workers in a challenge to the Fair Labor Standards Act that does not require overtime for farm workers. Bosma Dairies reportedly sold 4,000 cows in response to low milk prices. Ruby Ridge Dairy is dealing with the UFW's efforts to unionize its workers in 2009.