Big Blueberry Harvest in Jeopardy Over Wage Rage
The Tri-Cities Herald reports Zirkle Fruit is fighting a Notice of Wage Adjustment increase for Prevailing Wage Rates for blueberry harvesting from $0.50 to $0.75 per pound.
“(T)his unilateral, mid-season 50% wage hike will likely result in Zirkle declining to harvest significant amounts of blueberries, which will put hundreds of farmworkers out of work, and will likely eliminate hand-picking from its 2020 production,” the company said in the lawsuit.
The company filed suit earlier this month alleging the Washington state Employment Security Department improperly computed the prevailing wage by neglecting to consider different way farms measure volume of fruit picked. While Zirkle did not participate in department’s survey, the attorney representing Zirkle says the government had already confirmed that Zirkle’s wages would have been excluded from the computations that led to the figure.
Zirkle says the government has approved to bring 2,750 foreign workers under the H-2A program, paying $0.50 per pound and a minimum of $15.03 an hour. The operation says workers have picked nearly 9.6 million pounds of blueberries through the end of July and paid nearly $4.7 million at the 50-cent rate, which translates to $17.13 hourly rate. The rate increase would add $1.4 million in wage and administrative expenses, which Zirkle says could wipe out the season’s profits.