- Associated Press - Monday, October 2, 2017

QUINCY, Wash. (AP) - A group of farmworkers are celebrating the end of a six-day strike in the apple orchards near the town of Quincy.

The 17 workers reached a settlement that obligates their employer - Larson Fruit - to address complaints ranging from a scarcity of toilet paper to verbal abuse from a supervisor.

The Seattle Times (https://bit.ly/2fJpJyy ) reported the strike involved foreign guest workers who come to the U.S. under temporary H-2A visas. They generally have been reluctant to protest for fear of being sent back home.

The agreement was reached with the assistance of a Northwest farmworker union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia.

The strike, which began Sept. 6, was resolved through face-to-face meetings between the workers and Keith Larson, owner of Larson Fruit. The resolution includes a commitment to reassign a supervisor accused of harassment and the reinstatement of three fired workers.

“I am kind of thankful that they were able to air their concerns,” Larson told the newspaper. “No one is perfect, and these guys brought some things to our attention that made us realize, Wow, we could do better.’”

At Larson Fruit, the H-2A workers perform vital tasks.

Through the spring and early summer, they prune and train to trellises new generations of small, densely planted and highly productive apple trees. In August, they switch to picking as early varieties start to ripen.

Their off-duty time is largely spent in a bunkhouse camp that is close to orchards yet outside of Quincy, which they visit on periodic trips for groceries.

H-2A workers only can be hired if U.S.-based workers don’t respond to job listings advertised by farmers and growers through state employment agencies. The contracts bind them to a single employer, who must provide free housing for the length of their stay that may range from a few months to nine months.

The H-2A workers are entitled to a special minimum wage set this year in Washington state at $13.38 per hour, and they can make considerably more when paid a piece rate during harvest seasons.

Washington farmers and growers want the Trump administration to ease H-2A visa regulations so foreign workers can be brought in more quickly and with less cost.

But even under the current rules, their use has skyrocketed amid a long decline in Mexican illegal immigration that has tightened Washington’s farm labor markets.

In 2017, Washington farmers and growers requested more than 18,550 positions for H-2A foreign workers. That is more than four times the number requested five years ago, and a more than 40 percent increase from just last year, according to state Employment Security Department statistics.


Information from: The Seattle Times, https://www.seattletimes.com

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