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March 19, 1996

Temporary tent-camp program for cherry harvest renewed

Informational meetings will be held in Wenatchee, Prosser and Mattawa later this month to tell cherry growers how they can obtain licenses to house workers in temporary labor camps during the 1996 cherry harvest.

The state departments of Health, and Labor & Industries will renew a cooperative pilot program started last year that permitted workers to camp in store-bought tents when growers provide a camp site with basic public safety and health facilities.

Since the cherry harvest takes place in the warm months of June and July and is a short, labor-intensive season, it offers the opportunity for an innovative solution to the critical housing shortage that confronts the growers and their labor force. In a 1995 report to the Legislature, Health Department officials said there is a 14,500-bed shortage for the cherry harvest in Chelan, Douglas and Grant counties. The total statewide housing shortage for the cherry harvest workers and their dependents is estimated at 23,500 beds.

Because many cherry growers are unwilling or unable to provide housing that meets state and federal standards, many workers end up sleeping in cars, out in the open or in self-constructed plastic tarp and cardboard shelters without any public health protection.

Last year, faced with this continuing problem, L&I Director Mark O. Brown and Bruce Miyahara, secretary of the Department of Health, decided to try something new. The result was a collaborative program that provisionally licenses growers to provide camping sites - if they include basic safety and health facilities.

"We wanted to provide a flexible approach that made economic sense to the growers while still safeguarding the safety and health of workers," Brown said. "I believe we succeeded on both counts."

The result? Last year, five growers received licenses and more than 500 workers benefited from safer and more healthful housing than would have been available otherwise. Officials expect a significant increase in the number of licenses this year.

Although critics of the program have voiced fears that the successful use of tents might be expanded to other crops, both Brown and Miyahara emphasized that the cherry harvest is a unique opportunity, and that neither agency has any intention of expanding the tent program to other crops.

Detailed instructions and requirements for the program will be presented at the meetings. They will be held:

  • March 26, Benton County PUD, 607 5th St., Prosser.
  • March 27, Stemilt Hill Cherry Plant, Wenatchee.

  • March 28, Mattawa, Mattawa City Hall, Mattawa.

    The program is supported by the Washington Growers League, the Washington Growers Clearinghouse and the Washington State Horticulture Association.

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