New rules haven't hurt local orchards

In California and Washington, a new round of federal regulations has created a shortage of agricultural labor.

New laws going into effect in September require workers’ identities to be verified within 90 days. If their Social Security numbers don’t match the agency’s database, the worker must be fired.

That could mean additional pressure in an already tight labor market dependent on immigrant workers.

Thus far, however, local orchards relying on migrant labor haven’t been hit, says Bill Eckart, general manager of the Fruit Growers League.

“They are not complaining as I half expected,” Eckart said. “They are coordinating with one another and sharing crews. We’ve got a pretty loyal group of people — some who are here year-round. It surprises me though. I thought I would hear a lot more complaining. They’ve got labor shortages in California and Washington, and Colorado is reporting shortages because of bureaucratic problems.”

Mike Naumes, president of Naumes Inc., said this year’s smaller crop has deflected the brunt of a possible labor shortage.

“The winter pear crop is not nearly the size as last year,” Naumes said. “I felt last year we didn’t have enough people and we got behind and never caught up. This year we’re in the transition, we’ve finished the cherries in California and Washington, and we seem in pretty good shape.

“There is no excess and we’re in a transition time from summer and fall pears to winter pears and typically that’s when we lose some people who keep going north. There’s no one out looking for work. But right now, we’re OK.”

Naumes said workers earn $10 to $18 an hour during harvest times and piecemeal workers — pickers and packers — earn in excess of $10 an hour.

“It’s my gut feeling there has been a lot more activity on the border than there used to be,” Naumes said. “A lot of other people who have done this work in the past have moved into other occupations.”

Nonetheless, Naumes said his company continues to ask workers for two pieces of identification.

“We require original documents and as long as they’re reasonable that’s all we have to do by law,” he said.

Employers face fines up to $10,000 if they do not investigate discrepancies outlined in the new regulations.

Ron Bjork of Eagle Point, president of the Jackson County Farm Bureau, said the new regulations could make it difficult for local farmers if they have to send immigrant workers packing.

“The federal government is the one that caused the (illegal immigration) problem,” he said. “They need to be the one to solve the problem and not put it on the backs of farmers or individual employers to solve.”

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or at

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