The State of the State for Vineyard Farmworkers in the Walla Walla Valley

Natalie Popovich

This research analyzes how the unique position of the wine industry as a combination of retail and agricultural production affects the particular health, housing, and labor needs of vineyard farmworkers. How has this come about, and what are the most effective means to address these needs? I investigate the structural characteristics of Washington wine grape production, such as labor tasks, processing, and costs and then compare the most common labor-related problems – wage theft, sub- standard housing, occupational mobility, health and child care needs – that farmworkers face nationally to find out if local vineyard farmworkers also face them.

Methods: I interviewed a range of different contributors to Washington’s wine industry including: vineyard farmworkers, vineyard owners and operations, farmworker union advocates, members of the Washington State Farm Bureau, and local winery employees.

Findings: My primary research suggests these trends specific to the wine industry:
• One hundred percent of my interview participants (particularly older workers) prefer to work in vineyards than in other labor-intensive crops because it is less physically demanding.
• The detailed nature of vineyard tasks make it more appealing to women but also causes a gender-based segregation in the fields that may have deeper ramifications on gender roles at home.
• Although there are greater opportunities for upward mobility in the wine industry for Latino farmworkers, it is limited in nature – usually preventing farmworkers from accessing the profits of this lucrative industry.
• Typical physical ailments frequent to most agricultural sectors are less common in wine grape production because the work is less demanding.
• Despite its more attractive labor tasks, occupational rights abuses are still common

Recommendations: I conclude that the cultural significance attributed to the wine industry and its resulting high profit margins make the wine industry a key place for bettering farmworkers’ working conditions. I suggest the following specific policy changes:
• Include Farmworkers under the Food Quality Protection Act and Federal Fair Labor Standards Act
• Incorporate Vineyard and Winery Management Skills for Farmworkers into Viticulture Programs
• Facilitate Unionizing Efforts on Farms and Vineyard of All Production Sizes
• Provide Infrastructure Where Farmworkers Can Confidentially Report Labor Rights Violations

Community Partner: Rosalinda Mendoza, Washington State Farmworker Housing Trust

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