Decent wages would end farm labor problems

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This is in regard to the article “Leaving the fields.”

All of the information is in the article, but the dots aren’t connected: if you want skilled farmworkers to continue to work as skilled farmworkers, recognize those skills and pay the workers accordingly.

While one worker says her wages have increased only about 15 cents an hour in the last few years — not enough to meet rising rent — local growers say they’re still facing labor shortages, even after raising wages.

A 15 cents an hour increase obviously isn’t sufficient. And saying workers can earn more than minimum wage at the piece rates they pay isn’t really saying much; have you tried to feed a family on minimum wage?

Another complaint was that farm workers who acquire legal status leave for easier, better-paying jobs as soon as they can. That’s just common sense.

If you don’t want them to move on, pay them enough to make it worthwhile for them to stay in farm labor. And if those farm jobs are filled, there will be fewer illegal immigrants coming over to replace those who have left for greener pastures.

It’s time we all change our perception of farm labor jobs.

As Daniel Schmoldt at the U.S. Agriculture Department’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture told the AP recently, “the hand-eye coordination workers have is really amazing, and they can pick incredibly fast.” We’re far from replicating those skills with a machine, he also said — which means without farm laborers, crops don’t get picked — or sold.

Paying decent wages would pay off by reducing losses from unpicked crops and employee turnover — and might even have a positive effect on our illegal immigration problems.

Jude Noland

Walla Walla

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