Friday, August 10, 2018

Yakima Washington Herald lets the cat out of the bag: American fruit grower rich enough to buy hotel to house foreign labor complains they make too much

Rob Valicoff is relying on 270 guest workers this year to pick his 1,700 acres of apples and pears in Wapato, nearly triple the 96 guest workers he used last year.

Under the federal H-2A guest worker program, growers are required to provide workers with housing, transportation, affordable meals and pay them higher wages.

“I’m excited now, to be honest,” he said. “Even if it costs more money, I’m excited for us not to be short of labor this year.” ...

One recent afternoon, more than 300 laborers filed into the dining hall at the former FairBridge Inn and Suites on North First Street in Yakima for dinner after a day in the fields.

Valicoff bought the 800-bed hotel and in June began housing H-2A workers from Mexico there. Some of the workers are employed by other growers, with Valicoff providing housing under an agreement with them.

Housing is free for workers, and they each pay $12.26 a day for three meals. They eat breakfast and dinner at the hotel and are provided sack lunches.

Valicoff would like to see changes that would require workers to pay a little more for meals and help with the cost of utilities.

“I think they need to pay a portion of that,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be a lot, maybe $6, $7 a day.”

He’d also like to see wages lowered for H-2A workers. The minimum wage is $14.12 an hour, above the state minimum wage of $11.50 an hour.