I had the chance to chat Nov. 21 with Dan Fazio, owner of the Washington Farm Labor Association, Lacey, Wash. Fazio helps manage H-2A programs for growers in Washington state.
1:00 p.m. Tom Karst: How did the last couple weeks of apple harvest go in Washington state? Were growers able to find enough workers to finish the harvest?
1:01 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 wasn’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.
1:05 p.m. Karst: So you have heard the prison laborers did all right?
1:06 p.m. Fazio: The prison laborers were pretty decent guys. They got in there and they are like, “We are here to work,. working is better than not working.” It is a crew they have from a minimum security prison in the state that does a lot of work with our Department of Natural Resources fighting fires. We are going to try to expand that program (in the future) to include a work release program. We’re having a summit Dec. 7th after the Washington State Horticultural Association meeting where Everyone will pitch for ways to get workers: the asylum seeker guys, the prison labor guy, the farm labor contractor, and the H-2A option.
1:07 p.m. Karst: What is the story about using asylum seekers for farm labor?
1:08 p.m. Fazio: We have a lot of refugees and asylum seekers in the state. There are over 1,000 people form all over the world seeking asylum and some of them are decent farm workers, so we have tapped into that program. We had about 300 (asylum seekers) in the field this year and probably about 100 or so made it through the harvest.
1:09 p.m. Karst: And you also manage H-2A programs in Washington state as well, right?
1:10: Fazio: We have 20 farmers that use the H-2A program, and I wrote the H-2A applications for 15 of the 20. So that is going to be another 3,500 people that come in through the H-2A program. So that creates workers for the guys that don’t use the H-2A program, those workers, that is 3500 more positions that are coming into the state.