Labor problems continue

06/10/2014 04:01:00 PM
Andy Nelson

Miedema has heard reports of INS officers “picking up people on the streets” and deporting them.

“What we hear is that this administration is much more likely to send people back.”

“We used to have a whole list of names of people who wanted to work,” he said. “This year it’s real scary.”

Putting a workable legal solution into place to help guarantee a stable work force shouldn’t be rocket science, said Todd Miedema, marketing director and a principal of Hudsonville-based Miedema Produce Inc.

“We need to control the borders, but If you can track a box of produce, you should be able to do the same with immigrants,” Miedema said. “I squarely put the blame on politicians.”

Guest workers, Miedema said, should be issued a card similar to a driver’s license. The administrative costs of any program would be paid for by the workers. It would be a lot cheaper, he said, to pay a fee than to pay a “coyote” to deliver you across the border illegally.

“To me, it’s not that difficult,” he said. “Taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay for it.”

That said, Miedema is not optimistic about a legislative breakthrough.

As a result, growers have to take matters into their own hands.

“In years past, they’d just hope they showed up,” he said. “Now, the growers I know are getting out in front and lining up labor beforehand. They’re being a lot more proactive.”

Miedema Produce is lucky because its signature crop, radishes, is more mechanized than other crops and thus doesn’t rely as much on labor.

In general, the company benefits from a loyal workforce.

“We have a lot of longtime, trusted employees who we see every year.”

In a typical year, reports of labor shortages may vary from grower to grower, but in 2013, the story was the same pretty much everywhere, said Todd DeWaard, sales manager of Hudsonville-based Superior Sales.

“It affected everybody,” he said. “Labor dictated what got picked. That made a lot of growers cautious about what to put in the ground this year.”

Given the strong markets last year, you’d expect production to be up this year, DeWaard said. Instead, they’re more likely to hold the line due to labor fears.

And growers won’t be taking as many risks.

“People are cutting the fat,” he said. “Whatever was on the back burner, they’re realizing it’s not worth it.”



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