Good Fruit Grower

May 1

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12 MAY 1, 2015 Good Fruit Grower C hild care, a universal topic among working parents, is not generally a focus of agriculture. Yet a Washington State agricultural employers group believes solving farmworker child care needs will create labor opportunities in a shrinking pool of workers. The Washington Growers League, an organization typically focused on labor management, worker safety, and other legislative and regula- tory changes that affect agricultural employers, is explor- ing ways to help growers cooperatively provide child care as a means of expanding the existing domestic farm work force. Maximizing and better utilizing domestic farm labor is one of the drivers behind getting involved in the child care issue, says Mike Gempler, executive director of the agricultural employer group based in Yakima. His orga- nization is also interested in supervised child care as it relates to child safety on farms and helping employers avoid child labor law violations. The Growers League's involvement in child care stems from a farm safety project initiated last year when the group received a $10,000 grant from the Agricultural Safety and Health Council of America. The project "Safe Play Zones for Farmworker Children" deals with child safety on farms and developing child-safe play areas in the fi eld. Revelation As the Growers League began interviewing workers and employers for the safe play zone project, an issue repeatedly mentioned was child care. "We discovered there are a lot of women who would like more farm work hours—and some who aren't doing farm work but would like to— but they are limited by child care," he said. "This was somewhat of a revelation to us." He noted that women are employed in orchards, vineyards, and pack- ing houses, and generally do very good work in labor-intensive crops. The child care revelation has led to a joint project between the Growers League and a Yakima Valley orchardist who is interested in using child care vouchers as a way to recruit more employees, as well as keep the female employees he has. "The employer's crews are running 70 to 80 percent female and he wanted to expand their hours," Gempler said. The female employees work less on a weekly basis than their male counterparts but they've told the employer they would work more hours if they had better day care options. Gempler said as they interviewed women living in farm labor hous- ing, many shared that they didn't work afternoons because they needed to be at the house when the school bus dropped off children. "Here we are in a labor shortage, and we have people living on a grow- er's property who want to work, but can't because of the lack of child care," he said. Black mark Although there is substantial subsidization of child care from state and federal programs, such as Inspire Development Centers and Migrant and Seasonal Head Start, Gempler says failures still occur and children are brought to the fi elds. Though children in the fi elds are a rarity, allegations by labor advocacy groups of child labor law abuse in agriculture have been a long-standing frustration of his. Three Washington berry employers were fi ned by the U.S. Department of Labor in 2011 for hiring underage children, and shipments of fruit were prohibited under the "hot goods" provision of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. He says the majority of his employer-members have policies against bringing underage minors to work, but it still happens. "Employers don't want it, they don't plan on it, but kids sometimes come with parents because there's a breakdown in day care. We want kids to be safe and we don't want farmers in trouble, getting a smear of largely undeserved publicity from child labor on farms." Assessing needs Part of the grant is being used to survey agricultural employers and employees to assess what kind of help the grower needs in offering child Child care could expand LABOR POOL Labor Providing child care could allow women to work more hours. by Melissa Hansen

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