Labor Shortage Hastens Push for Immigration Reform

Krista Almanzan, Local NPR for Monterey Bay Area

July 25, 2013

Nearly a month after the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill, the debate in the House drags on.   Meanwhile, local farmers are eager for a solution.  They’re facing an ongoing labor shortage that many feel could be solved by immigration reform.

Joe Pezzini walks onto a field in Castroville greeting harvest workers as they head off on a break. Nearby about twenty men stand flanked by conveyor belts on a flatbed truck. They’re sorting baskets of freshly picket Brussels sprouts. Ocean Mist Farms is known for fresh artichokes, but it also grows more than 30 different vegetables on farms in Castroville and throughout the west coast.  Getting all that produce to market requires a lot of hands.  “We probably have 800 plus people working today, harvesting produce, working in our farming operation,” said Pezzini, Ocean Mist Farms Chief Operating Officer.  And on any given day, Pezzini could actually use more hands.

In recent years Ocean Mist, and other area growers, have been dealing with a labor shortage.  They cite a combination of factors: an improving economy in Mexico, fewer immigrants crossing the border and increased enforcement in the U.S.  According to a survey by the California Farm Bureau Federation, about 70% of growers of labor intensive crops like fruits and vegetables, reported a worker shortage last year, and this year’s survey is trending in that same direction.  “The shortage really started showing up in the last two to three years, it seemed to be much more acute. You can drive through the valley right now, and there’s signs up looking for workers, primarily strawberry pickers,” said Pezzini. For its part, Ocean Mist started doing things like advertising on radio and offering employees recruitment incentives.  But Pezzini says those measures are just band aids, the real solution to the shortage is immigration reform.

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