Chinese workers are available and willing to work on farms in Oregon, Washington and other states, said an executive whose company plans to import transient laborers from China.
Late last week, Cheeon Fung, project director for New York-based Chinagri Manpower Center spoke to strawberry growers in Hillsboro, Ore., and orchardists in Walla Walla, Wash.His message was well timed. Growers have complained that the U.S. Immigration Reform & Control Act of 1986 is drying up their source of Mexican migrant labor.
It was Mr. Fung's second trip to the Northwest to explain his company's
plans. He and company president K.K. Soo visited the region last December, at which time they also meet with representatives of the Oregon Employment Division.
The company also has put forward the plan to farmers in Massachusetts, North Carolina and New Jersey, he said. To date there has been no takers, however, he said.
According to Mr. Fung, the Chinagri Manpower Center proposal has the blessing of the Chinese government and a pool of 5 million people to draw
Jianxin Shi, an official at the Chinese consul general's office in New York, said he was aware of the plan and confirmed it had the approval of Beijing. However, strong opposition from U.S. labor unions may dampen any enthusiasm for the plan, he said.
Sue Brewer, agriculture representative for the Oregon Employment Division, said she was impressed by the first presentation. The plan is as feasible as using Mexican workers, she said.
Under the arrangement, the Chinese government will fly workers to San Francisco where they will be met by growers. The growers will support the cost of transporting the workers from SanFrancisco to the farms. This, Ms. Brewer said, would be no more costly than Oregon farmers picking up Mexicans at the Mexican border.
Oregon strawberry growers and other farmers dependent on many migrant workers welcomed the plan, but expressed concern over the high wage payments it would require.
The Chinese workers would be brought to the United States under the H-2A provision of the Immigration & Control Act of 1986, which allows foreign workers to work on U.S. farms if growers can prove to the U.S. Labor Department that they cannot fill their employment requirements with U.S. workers.
The Labor Department requires H-2A workers be paid the previous year's prevailing farm wage in each state as determined by the U.S. Department of Labor. In Oregon and Washington that would amount to $5.26 an hour, a rate topped only by $7.46 in Hawaii and $5.41 in California.
The federal minimum wage, by comparison, is $3.35 an hour.
In addition to paying the foreign workers' transportation costs from their port of entry and the required H-2A wage, farmers must provide lodging, food, and guarantee that the workers get at least 75 percent of the wages they expect to earn during the contract period.
Moreover, said James Schuelke, Seattle-based regional monitor for the U.S. Department of Labor, farmers must hire any American worker who applies for a job during the first half of the contract period for the foreign workers.
Several farmers objected to this requirement, saying it could cause an H- 2A grower to be swamped with workers leaving lower paying farm jobs, or force other growers to pay higher wages.
Responding to charges that the higher wages could lead to higher prices for consumers, Mr. Schuelke said U.S. consumers have been subsidized for years by farmers using illegal aliens who would work cheaply.