Seattle Press
Housing Conditions Worsen For State's Farm Workers
Thousands of agricultural workers in Central Washington are being forced to live out in the open and in tents and makeshifts camps because of the severe shortage of housing for workers who pick cherries, apples, hops, asparagus and other crops.

An unusual facet of Washington law provides minimal standards for farm worker housing, but doesn't require employers to furnish housing. Several large orchards have closed and bulldozed some traditional camps recently rather than meet the minimal state standards for water, toilets and cooking facilitites.

Many of the workers are migrants, but not necessarily illegal immigrants. All farm workers must have their immigration status checked and certified as legal by their employers.

According to Lupe Gamboa, Regional Director for the United Farm Workers of America, "the State Department of Natural Resources owns about 25% of the land in the Mattawa area which is leased to growers. But in spite of a severe housing shortage, the leases prohibit any housing."

Gamboa said "Agriculture is a $6 billion industry in our state. We can afford to provide safe and sanitary housing for the families that pick our crops."

The UFW is continuing to organize in the Yakima and Mattawa areas where 40,000 workers harvest the crops every year. The housing issue will be taken up in the legislature in January, Gamboa said.