A Washington State Business Employment Dynamics report, or BED, demonstrated continued growth in the labor market. In fact, the labor market has seen 29 consecutive quarters of a net increase in job growth.
The strongest growth sectors within the local economy were in the following areas:
- Software development and applications; and
- Computer programming.
These areas show a developing economy outside of the traditional agricultural and tourism economies. With this new reality comes some new challenges.
Depletion of Farmworker Power
Over the last several decades, agricultural work has been a significant part of the local economy. Apple orchards and other farms have hired many seasonal and transient workers, including those from south of the border. Many workers are those who migrate from California during the busy season and return to California after the harvest.
As those workers formed a strong part of the economy, unionizing those workers became an important issue, as well. Through the strength of the unions, these workers were able to garner better treatment and better wages. They were able to find a voice.
As a result of this strength, the Washington Legislature passed certain labor laws that provided workers with fair treatment and fair pay. The Washington Department of Labor and Industry regulated certain aspects of farm work based on hearing the voices of the farm workers’ unions.
Now, however, with the shift to an economy with a stronger emphasis on professional services, healthcare, and technology, it is unclear how these unions will be viewed. Will they be able to be the voice of the farm workers, who, in general, lack the might to make waves? Or will their voices be drowned out by the bigger, wealthier, and now more important sectors in other sectors?
According to a USDA report released last November, the Pacific region, which is the area that covers Oregon and Washington, saw an increase of 37% in the farmworker population over a month-to-month time period. In addition, the wages for the region increased to the highest level of all regions across the United States.
Nonetheless, should there be concern that farm workers will no longer be needed?
The United Farm Workers, the union started by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, marched 340 miles to Sacramento, California to draw attention to the plight of farmworkers. It was a watershed moment because it was successful. Since then, farm workers have been organizing and demonstrating across the country, with the United Farm Workers often a driving force.
As long as agriculture is an important part of the economy, there will always be a need for farm workers. Even if other sectors grow and prosper, there will be a need for farm workers. Therefore, farm workers should stay vigilant and stand for their rights, even when the economics start changing.
Labor issue? Need to organize? Contact the HKM law firm, a labor law firm that represents the rights of workers.