September 3, 2019
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Some Washington farms, and their workers, are "struggling" under the federal guest worker program

Washington farms continue to face labor challenges, Crosscut reports. Many growers, unable to hire local farmworkers, are turning to the federal H-2A guest worker program – but that comes with higher costs and more regulations that are a challenge for some producers, reporter Lilly Fowler writes.

The federal program allows foreign workers to work on American farms and ranches, at wages of $15.03 an hour. Picking cherries and harvesting apples are examples in Washington. Producers also provide housing and other benefits.

Washington’s use of the program has surged in recent years, from a low of about 2,100 in 2009 to nearly 25,000 in 2018.

State officials are stepping up their efforts to oversee the state’s farm labor pool with a new advisory committee made up of labor advocates and producers. The state committee aims to produce a report focusing on better recruitment of labor to and protections for workers. This work is taking place as the president’s administration has proposed loosening regulations on the federal guest worker program.

In 2017, a Washington Policy Center report showed that more than half of farm owners reported losses due to labor disruptions.

Farmer Rob Valicoff of Wapato said workers might work today or tomorrow, and then not show up.

Others say there isn’t a worker shortage, but changing conditions. Labor advocate Rosalinda Guillen said local workers in Washington have been gradually displaced by foreign workers in the H-2A program.

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Big Changes

Employers need to prepare for new noncompete laws

By Tim O'Connell of Stoel Rives

During the last legislative session, Washington took significant steps to limit noncompetition agreements for employees in the state and prohibit employer policies that ban moonlighting, impacting not only an important part of many local companies' strategies to protect their market position, but also employee loyalty.

The new state statute regarding noncompetition agreements and moonlighting policies demands attention from Washington employers...

Starting Jan. 1, 2020, employers that utilize noncompetition agreements need to carefully evaluate whether those agreements will meet the new state standards. If not, employers should revoke or revise those agreements prior to the effective date...

Properly structured noncompetition agreements and properly based policies regarding moonlighting are valid. Employers must, however, address these new limitations, sooner rather than later.

Read the full column in The Puget Sound Business Journal