Blueberry Wage Decision Pt 2

Blueberry Wage Decision Pt 2

Bob Larson
Bob Larson
With today's Fruit Grower Report, I'm Bob Larson. A recent decision by the state Department of Employment Services to raise the piece rate for hand-picked fruit 50% for H-2A workers has Washington growers on edge.

Washington Blueberry Commission Executive Director Alan Schreiber says the decision boosts the rate for his growers from .50 to .75 cents per pound and threatens the entire fresh industry ...

SCHREIBER ... "There's not enough money, not enough margin in fresh picked blueberries to absorb a 50% increase in the cost of labor. If the new, higher rate, .75 cents a pound, becomes the industry standard it will, overnight, wipe out the conventional blueberry fresh market."

Schreiber says a judge is scheduled to decide this week whether or not to uphold the wage hike...

SCHREIBER ... "If he upholds it, I suspect what will happen is the H-2A worker will cease picking and we'll lay off every worker."

So, is mechanization the next step? ...

SCHREIBER ... "People are already trying to pick fresh with machines, but it's very limited. We just don't have the technology to pick fresh. Less than 10% of the fresh industry is picked by machine because it just, the fruits too fragile for it."

And, Schreiber says that doesn't leave a lot of options for those berries ...

SCHREIBER ... "So, what will happen with a lot of these blueberries that are being picked fresh will go on the processed market? They'll put machines in and pick them for the processed market."

Tune in tomorrow and find out more about this H-2A wage hike and what might happen if our blueberries are redirected to the processed market.

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