October 22, 2018
Dear Candidate Schrier:
No doubt you have learned how hurtful your comments about “abusive farmers” are to our hard working, responsible farmers. But you may not be aware of how harmful your ill-advised comments about the H2A workers are to farm workers.
I came from Mexico when I was nine years old. I worked in farm fields in both Eastern and Western Washington along with many of my family members. I went to school and count among my friends the very farmers you suggest are abusive. Far from abusing me, they helped me get an education, get legal citizenship, go to university and graduate with a degree in accounting. I have been a senior executive for several area companies and now serve as Vice President of Finance for a farm-related business.
This year Washington farmers hired about 30,000 guest workers, mostly from Mexico. These workers not only made it possible for farmers to harvest their fruit and other crops, but they earned 20 to 30 times more than they could earn working on farm fields in Mexico. No guest worker may be hired until the farm proves to the satisfaction of the Department of Labor that domestic workers cannot be found to do the work. The guest worker law requires that farmers pay transportation to and from their homes, provide food at subsidized cost, provide free government-inspected housing and a number of other benefits not available to them in Mexico. There are numerous government inspections of facilities, policies and working conditions. Most companies buying from our farmers now require third party social audits that provide an additional layer of worker protection. I am not aware of other categories of workers in our state that benefit from the same degree of inspection and protection.
Washington farmers are required to pay the very highest minimum wage to guest workers in the nation because of our high minimum wage. This year the minimum wage for guest workers was $14.12 per hour. When domestic workers at the farm are doing the same work they are also required to be paid the high minimum. Most earn considerably more because of incentive pay and $25 to $35 per hour and more is quite common for productive workers.
The most important point is that our guest workers in Washington in 2018 not only made possible the harvest of critically important food, but they returned about $400 million or more to their families back home in Mexico. There are many respectable houses being built and full stomachs of children because of these very valuable jobs.
The term “indentured servitude” is an accusation made because guest workers are required to work only for the farm they contracted with or return home. The reason is simple: the farmer or labor provider is fully responsible for returning the worker back to their homes in order to prevent this program becoming an avenue for illegal immigration. Would you suggest an alternative?
The H2A guest worker program is extremely expensive for farmers and is getting more expensive all the time. But with domestic farm worker availability declining steadily farmers face a choice of leaving crops to rot in the fields and stop farming or hire guest workers and try to compete. We are losing out to foreign farmers at an accelerating pace because our very high cost of production. That’s why over 53% of our fruit now is imported. The CDC reports food borne illnesses have risen at the same pace as imported food, and the FDA reports that imported food is nine times more likely to have violative pesticide residues than domestic food.
Those, such as yourself, who seek to help farmworkers need to better understand the very best way they can help is to ensure our labor laws, trade laws, labeling laws and others provide a more level playing so our farmers can stay in business and continue to offer these jobs.
I hope you understand from this that the information on which you based your unfortunate comments was false. Those seeking to impose farm worker unions have consistently lied about the nature of the program and the treatment of workers by farmers. I would like to invite you personally to visit with farmers you believe have been abusive and also talk to farmworkers whom you intended to help by your comments. I’m very confident you will find that, like me, they believe you are misguided on this important issue and if you are elected and take action on it they would be the ones most harmed.
Project Director, Protect Farmworkers Now