In an earlier session, growers also learned about the labor landscape for 2017, including increased use of the federal guestworker program known as H-2A, changes to Washington’s Worker Protection Standards for pesticide use and a new law that requires growers to provide workers with paid sick leave.
The paid sick leave is a requirement under a bill that also increased the minimum wage gradually over the next four years, after which it will be tied to inflation: $11 in 2017, $11.50 in 2018, $12 in 2019 and $13.50 in 2020.
Growers who are wondering if they should pay more or buy capital equipment that might enable them to reduce the size of their workforce can plug those numbers into any calculations to determine how much their labor costs will increase year to year, said Sarah Wixson, an attorney with Stokes Lawrence Velikanji Moore and Shore in Yakima, Washington.
Under the bill, growers also must provide 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. That time accrues over the course of the year, and up to 40 hours may be rolled over to the next calendar year.
That’s true even if a worker only works for the grower for a short time, quits, then returns the following year, so growers must be vigilant about tracking sick leave time accrued by each worker, Wixson said.
Several workers also provided updates on the H-2A program, a program that has grown significantly in use by Washington growers in the past decade.
Just 814 workers were brought to Washington under the program in 2004; that number grew to 13,641 workers last year, according to Craig Carroll of Washington’s Employment Security Department.
Growers need to be sure to use a certified labor contractor, specify what the contractor and grower are each responsible for, and, in writing, forbid collection of payment from a worker during the recruiting process, said Brendan Monahan, also an attorney with Stokes Lawrence Velikanji Moore and Shore.
Other tips from Monahan: double check insurance, particularly for housing, consult with an attorney and be sure to meticulously comply with requirements for recruiting domestic workers.
For more changes ahead in the labor landscape for growers, stay tuned to future issues of Good Fruit Grower.
– by Kate Prengaman and Shannon Dininny