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October 2022, Volume 28, Number 4

Midwest, Northeast, Northwest

Colorado. Some 2,000 sheepherders (borregueros) with H-2A visas watch flocks of 1,000 to 2,000 sheep in the public lands of the western US. Most sheepherders are from Peru, most earn the AEWR $1,807 a month for 48-hour workweeks, and most are in the US for three years, followed by at least three months at home.

The Peruvians are the latest group to guard sheep in the western states. During the 1950s and 1960s, many of the sheepherders were Basques from northern Spain, some of whom settled in the US. Employers can sponsor H-2A sheepherders for immigrant visas, but few do.

The reservoirs on the Colorado river are at record lows in 2022, threatening water supplies for 40 million people and farms. The four upper basin states, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming, use less than their allotted share of Colorado river water, while the lower basin states of California, Nevada and Arizona use their full allotment.

Iowa. Pella Corp, a privately owned maker of windows and doors with annual sales of over $1 billion, is adding amenities to the 10,000 resident city of Pella to attract and retain employees. Pella celebrates its Dutch heritage with an annual tulip festival and Dutch-themed buildings on the main square, but only a quarter of its 2,500 employees in the Pella plants live in the city. Pella has other manufacturing plants, including farming-equipment maker Vermeer Corp, and they also have difficulty attracting employees.

Ohio. The Secor Nursery in Perry was debarred from the H-2A program for three years and assessed over $75,000 in CMPs for underpaying workers in the US and charging them for some of the costs of transportation. The WHD previously found violations at Secor in 2009, 2011, and 2018.

Maine. A state law that forbids H-2A workers from driving logging trucks for operations with 50,000 or more acres within the state is being challenged in federal court. Proponents argue that logging companies prefer to hire Canadians, while opponents contend that DOL must certify the need for H-2A workers, so no Maine workers are displaced by H-2A Canadians.

The Gulf of Maine accounts for two-thirds of US lobster, some 44,000 metric tons in 2020. Lobsters are caught using cone-shaped baited traps that attract lobsters who cannot escape. Lobster fishers must release both small and large lobsters over three pounds that are likely to produce more young.

Most traps or pots are laid out in strings or fleets with a number of traps attached to a rope with a buoy that marks its location. The traps are hauled to the surface and rebaited after sorting the lobsters inside. The lobster season peaks from June through October. The surface of the Gulf of Maine is warming, but water at the bottom where lobsters live are remains cold. Lobster has thrived as predators such as cod and haddock declined.

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch in September 2022 recommended that consumers avoid American lobster because the ropes used to suspend lobster traps or pots could entangle the 350 remaining North Atlantic right whales. Seafood Watch says that six right whales a year die due to rope entanglement. Ropeless traps are available, but they cost over $2,000 each, compared to $50 for a traditional trap.

Mississippi. DOL Secretary Marty Walsh met with seven Black workers in Indianola in July 2022 who allege that white farmers paid white South African H-2A workers higher wages than they received. The Mississippi Center for Justice, which is representing the US Blacks in suits against Harris Russell Farms and Pitt Farms, wants DOL to investigate these farms. Over 80 percent of the farms investigated by WHD over the past 15 years had at least some violations of federal labor laws and regulations.

Kentucky. Morehead-based AppHarvest has been producing tomatoes since January 2021 from a 60-acre tomato greenhouse. AppHarvest plans to add another 60-acre tomato greenhouse, a 30-acre cucumber greenhouse, and a 15 acre berry greenhouse by the beginning of 2023. USDA guaranteed 80 percent of a $50 million loan for the AppHarvest berry facility in Somerset.

Controlled Environment Agriculture continues to expand, often with investments from private ESG investors. Gotham Greens, a New York City based operator of CEA hydroponic greenhouses founded in 2009, has raised over $400 million from private investors in order to operate 13 greenhouses around the US by 2023.

New York. The Farm Laborers Wage Board’s in September 2022 recommended that overtime wages for farm workers be phased in over a decade and that a tax credit be available to help farmers to cover the cost of overtime pay. New York has a reported 55,000 farm workers, including about 11,000 on H-2A visas; the Board recommended that the weekly threshold for hours worked before overtime pay is required drop from 60 to 40 over a decade.

Vermont. Vermont produces half of US maple syrup, about two million gallons a year worth $30 a gallon. Vermont’s six million taps yield a third of a gallon of syrup each. Since the sap collected by the taps is mostly water, about 40 gallons of sap must be collected to obtain a gallon of syrup that is 66 percent sugar.

Texas. Republican Mayra Flores, a Mexican-born woman who worked in US fields with her parents, was elected in June 2022 to complete the term of a House Democrat who resigned. Flores echoed Trump in calling unauthorized immigration an invasion, and her “God, family, country” slogan resonated with the district’s Hispanic voters in south Texas.

Idaho. Resort towns such as Sun Valley and nearby Ketchum do not have enough housing for the workers who provide services to wealthy and often absentee residents. With median home prices topping $1 million and rents over $3,000 a month for two bedroom apartments, workers earning entry-level wages cannot afford to live near their jobs.

Large employers in Sun Valley, Aspen, and Jackson Hole often offer dorm-style accommodation to single employees, but families sometimes crowd into converted garages, RVs or other housing. Many resort cities prohibit people from living in RVs parked on private land for more than a month, but these rules are rarely enforced due to the lack of affordable housing.

Oregon. Siri and Son of St Paul was sued in 2020 by a US worker who alleged that Siri favored H-2A workers. A federal jury in August 2022 rejected the discrimination charge, finding that Siri lawfully hired the complaining US worker as a weeder at a lower wage and eventually fired him for being hostile and abusive. US workers also charged Coleman Farms in Marion county and Cal Farms with favoring H-2A workers.

Oregon is debating new farm worker housing rules. Farmers say that many of the worker advocates involved in the discussions are anti-farmer, such as one who said that farm workers are akin to “indentured servants.”

Washington. The US is expected to produce 265 million bushels or 11 billion pounds of apples in 2022, slightly above the five-year average of 260 million bushels. The leading varieties are Gala, 50 million bushels; Red Delicious, 35 million; and Honeycrisp and Fuji, 30 million each. The US is a net exporter of fresh apples, sending 40 million bushels abroad and importing five million bushels.

DOL in July 2022 debarred Welton Orchards and Storage for three years from the H-2A program after Welton failed to pay for worker transportation, failed to try to recruit US workers, and did not offer promised hours of work. Welton allegedly threatened to fire workers who complained, and did not provide DOL with required employment and earnings records.

Ostrom Mushroom Farms was charged with firing most of its female employees in violation of state laws and replacing them with male H-2A workers. The complaint alleges that 140 of the 177 mushroom pickers were replaced in 2020-21.

Alaska. Between 100 million and 200 million salmon are caught each year in Alaska; the peak was almost 300 million in 2013. Some 120 million salmon were harvested in 2020, including 60 million pinks, 46 million sockeye, nine million chum, two million coho, and 250,000 Chinook.

The Bristol Bay sockeye salmon run set a record in 2022, with over 60 million of the 80 million returning fish caught; processors paid $1.15 a pound for sockeye salmon. Some 25 million pink salmon were caught in 2022.

A third of Alaska’s harvested wild salmon were bred in hatcheries, and two-thirds were spawned by wild salmon in streams and rivers. The largest salmon hatchery is Prince William Sound Aquaculture, which releases 35 million sockeye each year into lakes 260 miles from the Gulf of Alaska. The fish eventually migrate to the ocean via the Gulkana River, and many become prized Copper River salmon.

Six of the 10 largest wildfires in the United States in 2022 were in Alaska, where lightening caused fires are often allowed to burn unless they threaten structures. A drought in south central Alaska combined with thunderstorms led to fires in the boreal forest of spruce and fir trees. Boreal forests in the far north include 30 percent of the global forest area. Dry trees and more grasses in the tundra ecosystem mean there is more biomass to burn.

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