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Yakima fruit company hosts new head of state Mexican consulate, talk farm workers' issues

KIMA

YAKIMA, Wash. -- As part of Labor Rights Week, a Yakima fruit company hosted the new head of the Mexican consulate for Washington state to discuss farm workers' issues.

"There's no shortage of work on a farm and so we're always, we're pretty much always hiring," said Andrew Sundquist, President of Sundquist Fruit and Cold Storage.

Having enough hands in the orchards is a priority for Sundquist who is one of nearly 35 valley farmers that utilize the H-2A Guest Workers program, provided by Wafla, the Washington Farm Labor Association.

On Wednesday, Sundquist hosted Wafla leaders and Roberto Dondisch, the new head of the state Mexican consulate, to discuss how the program is benefiting him and his workers.

"We go and talk to the people. Mexicans working here, employers as well, to make sure that everybody understands what their rights are and that their rights are respected and they have a good work experience," said Dondisch.

Under the H-2A program, employers hire temporary workers from Mexico on visas to provide labor while the workers are paid and given housing and travel for their time here.

Wafla officials said over 15,000 visas are provided annually in the state, with about 4,000 of the workers in the Yakima Valley.

Helping farmers like Sundquist, who's had labor shortage issues in the past.

"Crops that don't get harvested in the Yakima Valley don't benefit anybody in the Yakima Valley so those crops can't be sold and bring money back here and so this program benefits everyone in the valley," he said.

Sundquist Fruit has only been involved with the program since 2013 but leaders said it's helped them keep up with the demands every growing season brings.

Which is something state officials will continue to watch in the future.

"We're very happy and we're going to be very engaged in the valley," Dondisch said.

Wafla leaders anticipate the number of H-2A guest workers to jump 30 percent within the next five years.

More information on the federal program can be found here.

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