Gastelum Says Focus Will Be Labor Advocacy and Relationships
WAFLA’s new CEO says he’s looking forward to representing farm workers and an industry that has been a big part of his entire life. Enrique Gastelum took over leadership of the organization this spring, and says one of his biggest priorities is showing those in the farming community, and those outside the industry, the important role H-2A plays. Gastelum says the visa program is critical to the Ag industry, not just in the Pacific Northwest, but up and down the west coast.
“Me growing up as a farm worker having a father that came from Mexico and knowing people that came to the United States not under the most safest conditions. I mean this is not only a vitally important program for labor intensive Ag so we can maintain our national food security, because of the dramatic labor shortages our employers are seeing, but it is a program that has so much government oversight and protections built in for the workers. It takes care of these workers from the time they're recruited to transporting to the states to the time they're here and when they go back home.”
Gastelum noted the H-2A program is even more vital in 21st century agriculture, where workers don’t move from community to community, following harvest.
Another topic of great importance to Gastelum is overtime in the ag community. The new overtime rule being implemented in Washington concerns him, and concerns workers with whom Gastelum has spoken.
“They're used to putting in a lot of hours during the high peak, seasonal times, and now they're concerned that their wages going to start getting cut because their hours are getting backed off. Are they going to get phased out for robots or automated equipment in the fields? And you know we would be foolish to think the industry is of looking at that. Now while it may still be many, many years away, you have workers concerned that you know they've been working in this industry 20-30 years, are those jobs still going to be there for them later on.”
Oregon has also implemented an overtime rule for the farming community. Gastelum added to be successful, he says relationships will be key moving forward.
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