Picking the Fruit of Knowledge: Washington Apple Farmworkers, Work, Family, and Politics

Paulina Oceguera
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This project examines the experiences of female farm workers in Washington State’s apple industry. What are the conditions affecting Latino farm workers, particularly in Washington’s apple industry, and what can be done to alleviate such problems? Along these lines, how are these female workers’ perceptions of their experiences shaped by their objective conditions?

Methods: The way in which I went about collecting research was through literature, databases, personal observation, and interviews. Literary analysis was an important guide for my research. In order to find quantitative data, I explored both private and governmental databases. Lastly, I gathered information on local conditions by visiting the Walla Walla Farm Labor Homes and by interviewing two apple workers from Walla Walla and Yakima, Washington.

Findings: In my research, I found that these Latina farm workers face three categories of problems which are common for other farm workers.

  • Wages and Working Conditions: Farm workers suffer from low wages causing a high percentage of poverty for them, which is perpetuated by their lack of legal status.
  • Family Living Conditions: The household composition affects family structure because of the responsibility given to the woman. In addition, the migratory nature of the work leads to a higher frequency of family separation, which is perpetuated by the inadequate housing that these workers inhabit.
  • Legal and Political Status: I found that the apple industry is dependent on immigrant labor made available through the absence of worker protection, which is in turn caused by labor regulations and workers’ lack of education and language barrier. Nonetheless, I found that these women construct their identity based on their pride as a farm worker, their place as women in the family, and their struggle against second-class citizenship.

Recommendations: In order to improve living situations, it is imperative to provide legal circumstances to self-empower individuals so that they may advocate change in their social conditions.

  • Direct Government Action: One attainable goal is to pressure state legislatures to pass bills that benefit farm workers, specifically Senate Bill 5240 and Senate Bill 5823. Both of these bills alleviate low wage problems.
  • Unions and Self-Empowerment: Unions have been effective tools for enacting change in farm workers’ conditions throughout the years. Therefore, the involvement of workers in such efforts would benefit their living standards.

Community Partners: I would like to acknowledge the help of my Community Partners, Jan Foster of Walla Walla Community College and Ben Hooper of Columbia Legal Services in Kennewick. They helped me guide my research by providing basic information about farm work and the conditions affecting workers. They also helped me in the editing process.

 

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