WENATCHEE, Wash. — Growers with veteran H-2A-visa agrcultural foreign guestworkers are “starting to see an unusual succession of requests” from those workers to leave early, says the farm labor association, Wafla.
It’s true especially among workers who signed contracts to stay six months or longer, Wafla said in a Sept. 26 alert to growers. Wafla director Dan Fazio spoke about the issue the same day at a conference with growers in Wenatchee.
Sometimes workers leave early because of injury, illness or a family emergency, but sometimes it’s simply because they made the money they wanted to and want to go home, Fazio said.
“It’s well documented that the number of minor injuries or emergencies increase dramatically when the weather turns cold,” the Wafla memo states.
Worker contracts vary from a few weeks to 10 months. Early departure can be a breach of contract, which frees the employer from having to pay the worker’s transportation back to the country of origin, usually Mexico.
Wafla advises growers to earn the trust of workers by talking to them about their contracts, reasons for leaving early and suggests documenting proof of emergencies because it will help recruiters consider the worker in the future.
Sometimes employers offer to release workers from their contracts early if work lessens as the season winds down, Wafla said.
Sean Gilbert, co-owner of Gilbert Orchards in Yakima, said his company had 50 H-2A workers last year and 100 this year and has had very few leave early.
Dave Taber, an Oroville grower who employs 47 H-2A workers at the season peak and has hired them for eight years, said he has had no problems.
“Every year we have some people go because of family issues. We just had one whose father was sick and in the hospital,” Taber said. “But nobody wants to leave because they’ve made enough money. They want to keep solid relations because they want to come back next year.”
Workers can break their contracts anytime for any reason but if they are not true emergencies they probably won’t be invited back, he said.
Several other tree fruit companies either could not be reached or did not return calls to comment on the degree of the problem.