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Wrangling Over Migrant Housing Builds

Politicians, lawyers and lobbyists have swarmed to migrant camps this harvest season, girding for a battle in the next Legislature.

All parties have their solutions to the shortage of migrant farm worker housing, but there is little consensus. The most recent attempt, which granted exemptions from building codes to growers, had bipartisan support from legislators and endorsement from growers. Gov. Gary Locke vetoed it after listening to migrant worker unions’ fears of inadequate housing.

Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Seattle, the bill’s sponsor, plans another try in 1998. But she is unsure how to find middle ground between the quarreling farmers and migrant unions.

“We need to keep dealing with the facts and logic in dealing with the welfare of the workers,” said Prentice.

Speaker of the House Clyde Ballard, R-Wenatchee - himself the son of fruit pickers - supports plans to ease building codes and the state’s current policy of allowing tent camps for the cherry harvest. “We are on middle ground right now,” said Ballard.

Industry officials are pushing another attempt at easing building codes, said Mike Gempler, executive director of the Washington Growers League.

“We need an immediate solution, not a pie-in-the-sky, idealistic, let’s-build apartments solution,” Gempler said.

The United Farm Workers union, meanwhile, is adamant about dormitory-style buildings, and bent Locke’s ear just before he vetoed the bill.

Locke has asked farm worker advocates to again lobby for a bill.

“This is an industry that can afford it,” said Lupe Gamboa, Washington director of the United Farm Workers of America. “(Migrant workers) deserve no less than the other workers” of this state.

, DataTimes MEMO: See main story under headline: Living in the pits

See main story under headline: Living in the pits


 

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