No undocumented workers? Hire inmates
A Washington state apple grower resorted to prison labor to bring in the crop.
In previous years undocumented Mexican workers have showed up in droves at the groves. Where were they this year?
Anywhere but Eastern Washington. A farm-labor agency representative told The Seattle Times that the usual harvest crews didn't materialize because of hostility toward anyone in the country illegally.
Some 1,000 jobs were available but few people seemed interested. One grower was so desperate for hands that he hired 105 inmates from a minimum security work camp at the end of October.
He paid the state $22 an hour for each worker. After costs for things like housing, food and security were taken off the top, inmates were paid the state minimum wage of $8.67 per hour.
Sort of. The Wenatchee World reported that the state also subtracted money for "crime compensation, incarceration costs, child support and other bills," which left inmates earning between $1 and $2 an hour.
Washington produces more apples than any other state. Almost three of every five apples in the United States are grown here, according to Washington's agricultural information page. That's somewhere between 10 billion and 12 billion each year -- and every apple is picked by hand.
That is, when hands are available.
Sensitive to labor fluctuations
Gov. Chris Gregoire called the labor shortage "dire" in mid-October, and took a group of farmers to the other Washington (D.C.). There they urged opposition to a proposed bill requiring employers to use the E-Verify Internet-based employment system before hiring workers.
During her visit Gregoire suggested that Congress find ways to get more workers into the country to keep harvests from rotting in the fields. The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Wash., reports that Washington apples aren't the only crop affected by labor shortages:
In Alabama, where a new state law is aimed at cracking down on illegal immigrants, the construction, agriculture and poultry industries all report huge shortages of labor. A University of Georgia study this year found that state had a shortage of 5,244 workers in the fields. In California, farmers have complained of too few workers to pick the avocados, and in Texas, growers have appealed with little luck for more help picking their organic crops and vegetables.
Labor is a farmer's third largest expense, according to a 2008 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Paychecks for specialty crops, including fruit, make up 30% to 40% of the farmer's annual cash expenses. This makes such growers "especially sensitive to fluctuations in the cost and availability of labor."
Estimates vary, but Washington newspapers report that anywhere from 72% to 79% of seasonal fruit pickers are in the country illegally. Post continues below.
A disaster for anyone who eats?
On her website, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., calls for immigration reform, saying the current system is "broken." "Fixing our immigration policies is critical for communities and industries in Washington state and across our nation," she writes.
Over the past few years Murray has called for a guest worker program with a path to citizenship.
In a Wenatchee World column called "The high cost of scaring them away," editorial page director Tracy Warner said he's not surprised that unemployed Washingtonians aren't lining up for orchard jobs. "Fruit harvesting is physically difficult and requires a great deal of learned skills to … earn decent money," Warner wrote.
Pickers are normally paid by volume rather than by the hour. An experienced worker can earn $150 to $175 a day, but a newcomer will make as little as $50.
Like Gregoire, Warner was critical of the proposed E-Verify bill.
"Cutting off access to immigrant labor would be a disaster for anyone who works and eats," he wrote. "Cut off their labor, you eliminate their income and their product that pumps wealth through the economy, creates jobs and fills stomachs. Why is that good?"
On Nov. 2, the World reported that the critical labor shortage had passed. The early varieties are all in, and later-ripening apples such as Fuji and Granny Smith tend to be grown in smaller orchards that can be harvested quickly.
No one seems to know whether the previous picker panic will result in higher prices.
More on MSN Money:
Lets just get right to the down and dirty. The hispanics are here illegally here therefore they will not complain about such a small amount of pay and for the most part crappy housing. The farmers want to spend as little money as possible on labor which..duh...makes sense. Hiring college students would be a fantastic idea!!!! But they are white and legal so God forbid they get hired. My family owns very large apple and cherry orchards in washington as well as one of the higher producing packing sheds, sad truth...they wont even hire me for the summer!!! They said they would have to pay me more and if they did that it wasnt fair to the other workers. AND IM FAMILY!!!! I was told they didnt trust the workers not to mess with me bc im white and female...wow farmers lets pick some fantastic workers. Deal with the cost of hiring citizens!!! Help OUR economy! Put food in OUR mouths!!!! Help US support our families!!!! And "have to" its not hard to find legal citizens to work for the orchards, hell there are thousands of college students that are looking for jobs in the summer. We just have to get our government to pull their heads out and quite worrying about this: equality crap (its not equal!) and realize were going nowhere in this country being a haven for illegals. FYI: check out how much our college students loans are now...think they dont want a summer job to pay off that bill?
I.E. The New Deal Programs remember Roosevelt?
The disabled persons are getting so little money they only get transport to doctor appointments. They can barely keep a roof over their heads are just getting $10 in food stamps maybe and have the pay $140 for 80/20 medicare insurance and rx with huge co-pays.
The real problem is the breakdown of the family unit as some 'adults' have no clear concept of what is expected of them or how to achieve it. They were either raised by the former welfare class or their parents had substance abuse issues. Adults take care of their responsibilities (children), they work outside the home, they honor their word to spouses and on debts , they obey the laws and they maintain their residence in a sanitary and weather tight manner. Work hard, save some and play too.
So many of the kids who just reached 18 are so full of entitlements from being coddled as kids they think they are going to step into a lifestyle like their parents provided immediately. This country needs a serious reality check. Religious leaders and educators can step forward to correct these problems.
No more men complaining about having no clue what their role is any longer. Let's concentrate on creating adults. Men and women now have the same expectations of them.
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