USApple leader Phil Glaize of Glaize Apples in Winchester, VA, told key U.S. House of Representatives staffers in Washington, D.C. during a Congressional briefing hosted by the Agriculture Workforce Coalition titled, “Agriculture’s Labor Crisis.”
Attended by 40 staffers, Glaize shared his personal experience and challenges securing labor, both in and out of the H-2A program. He called on Congress to address labor reform and pass a new guest worker program that provides reliable access to a legal workforce.
“When my grandfather founded the business in 1921, apple growing was very different from what it is today,” said Glaize. “However, nothing has changed the fundamental fact that apples still need to be manually pruned and hand-picked. Many of our new growing practices have been driven by the need to facilitate picking and pruning. The work is physically demanding and it is temporary. It is also highly skilled. If each apple is not picked correctly, the fruit can become bruised, damaged, and less marketable.”
“My experience is typical for apple growers across the country,” he said. “This issue more than anything else, unites East and West, large and small operations. From growers in New England who may only need 10 harvest workers to those in Washington state that need 1,000-plus at peak, the fear that there will not be an adequate labor force is what keeps me and my fellow growers up at night.”
Glaize went on to discuss the delays and limitations in the H-2A program. “The infrastructure is not there to support the current program, let alone the five to 10-fold increase that would occur if everyone were to shift to H-2A at once. That is why it is imperative that Congress reform — or better yet replace — the program before enacting enforcement legislation such as mandatory e-verify.”
Closing his remarks with concerns about the future of his business, Glaize said, “It is an exciting time to be an apple grower and I am proud that my sons, Philip and David, the fourth generation, have returned home and are working with me. But we have to get the labor situation figured out. If we don’t I won’t have a business to pass to the next generation and the many people we employ year-round will be forced to look for work elsewhere.”