The Packer’s National Editor Tom Karst on Nov. 21 chatted with Dan Fazio, director of the Washington Farm Labor Association, Lacey, Wash. Fazio helps manage H-2A programs for growers in Washington state. Read the entire chat on the Fresh Talk blog.
1 p.m. Tom Karst: How did the last couple of weeks of apple harvest go in Washington state? Were growers able to find enough workers to finish the harvest?
Fazio1:01 p.m. Dan Fazio: There was (some) fruit left on the trees. We will have the result of (the harvest) pretty shortly. (Washington state) surveys about 900 growers every month and they ask them if they have enough workers. We had a 5% shortage in August. It spiked to a 8.9% shortage in September. The shortage was 6.7% in October. The governor declared an emergency because there weren’t enough pickers and so they actually offered prison labor.
1:03 p.m. Karst: I was wondering how that experiment with prison labor went. How did the prison labor work out for the grower that used it?
1:04 p.m. Fazio: They have prison labor where the state does everything (transport workers, house them). One employer (McDougall & Sons Inc., Wenatchee) tried them for the apple harvest and they reported they did really well. It was only an experiment for a couple of weeks and they did a pretty good job.
1:13 p.m. Karst: What were the causes of the labor shortage in the Northwest? Was it the late harvest?
1:13 p.m. Fazio: The first problem is that it is a really tough job and no one wants to do it.
1:14 p.m. Karst: So growers are worried about the labor supply, but what are they doing to prepare for the future?
1:15 p.m. Fazio: Growers haven’t embraced the H-2A program because the administration doesn’t want us to use it. The Obama administration is trying to get us to not use the H-2A program because they don’t want us to solve our problem. Their problem is they want to legalize the people that are undocumented. We want to do that too, but we are not going to allow (Congress) to legalize the people who are undocumented unless they give us a guest worker program. Because if we legalize the people that are undocumented, that is great for the next three to five years. Then what are we going to do? That’s where we differ with the administration.
The administration is saying, legalize people who are here now and then you won’t need a guest worker program. That’s exactly what we did in 1986. We legalized the people that were here and we did not get a guest worker program. We’ve kept doing business because we believe in the idea of a legal and stable work force at an affordable price and that is what we are pushing for. We’ve got a lot of interest in H-2A programs, and we have done a lot of innovate type stuff, getting two or three growers together, making things work. It would just be better if the government would helps us instead of hindering us.