Hard Times For Migrants Waiting For Apple Crop
YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) _ Guadalupe and Hilario Gonzales are living with their four children in a car along the Yakima River while they look for work as pickers in the nation’s largest apple harvest.
The Gonzaleses are among an unknown number of migrant workers stranded without jobs in central Washington state by a weather-delayed harvest that is up to three weeks late.
″We have been here for a month,″ she said Tuesday through a translator. ″We have no more money for gasoline.″
The Fresno, Calif., family, whose children are between the ages of 2 and 11, has found no work. Their money has run out, so they have been living off government food vouchers and private food banks and sleeping in their car along the river, Mrs. Gonzales said.
The story is much the same for other migrant workers lured north by the prospect of well-paying jobs picking a bumper crop that represents about 37 percent of the nation’s apples.
The harvest was projected to begin in early September and to be in full swing by Sept. 10. But unseasonably warm temperatures have delayed the final ripening of the Red Delicious apples.
Although the harvest is progressing in central Washington, indications are that there are far more workers than jobs.
Many migrants are worried about earning enough money to buy gasoline so they can go home, said Raymond Perez, who drove to Washington two weeks ago from California.
Perez said he and four companions are among about 75 people living in a large garage near Granger. They have found no work, and the car they bought for $600 to come to Washington has broken down, he said.
They are critical of the Washington State Apple Commission’s recent radio advertisements broadcast in California saying the huge crop would need 45,000 pickers. This season’s apple crop has been estimated at a record 83.3 million boxes.
″If I make a mistake, I pay for my mistake,″ Perez said. ″The Apple Commission made a lot of mistakes. It is necessary (for them) to pay.″
However, Charles St. John, a spokesman for the commision, said the commission maintains that there will be no large surplus of workers.
No one knows how many unemployed migrants are in the area, although estimates run into the thousands. On Tuesday, the Yakima office of the state Job Service turned away 120 people for 60 jobs as pickers.
Job Service officials have said that as few as 5 percent of the migrants are seeking jobs at their offices. The number of unsuccessful job seekers is down from the 300 turned away some days last week, said Mark Mochel, head of the Yakima Job Service office.
″We hope that indicates that people have found work on their own or that those who found jobs are still working,″ he said.
But Perez said his travels in the area have turned up only an abundance of ″No Help Wanted″ signs.
″Everybody’s got the same problem,″ Perez said. ″No money to get back to California, for gasoline, food, nothing.″
Thousands of dollars have poured into central Washington to help the migrants, including $29,000 in federal food and gasoline vouchers, $20,000 from growers organizations, a $12,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and thousands more in contributions from private relief organizations.
The state has given little direct aid, because it is unclear if there are state budget provisions to provide for economic emergencies, according to Greg Fisher, a press spokesman for Gov. Booth Gardner.