Lack of local labor forces Washington Co. farm to hire migrant workers

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WASHINGTON COUNTY, Oh.-(WTAP) The Witten Farms, located between Beverly and Lowell in Washington County, says it prioritizes hiring local labor for seasonal summer jobs, but those jobs usually doesn't get much interest.

"For the past five years, I believe, we've had, for 40 positions, we've advertised for three months, and we've had four people apply," says Manager Tom Witten. "Not four people who were hired, four people who applied."

So, for those jobs, it has hired migrants, through the government's "Guest Worker" program.

The seasonal workers are natives of El Salvador. Witten says the money they make supports the workers' families.

"They're a joy to work with," says Tom Witten, the third generation of the family who has owned the farm since the late 1950's. "They put in a 12-hour day, smile, enjoy themselves the whole time. They're really here to make their life better."

Witten says what these seasonal workers do part of the year supports his business year-round. That is, it helps employ people year-round; people from the local area.

"They create another 180 jobs; people from the retail locations, to the mechanics to the operators to the office staff," Witten says. "They are helping to create more jobs in this economy; they aren't taking away jobs.

There are two government migrant worker programs; one for agricultural businesses, such as Witten, and the other for service and construction companies.

"We are using the same H2A visa program President Trump uses at his vineyards in Virginia," Witten notes, "and we would hope he acknowledges that. But it's a federal program, so it makes us very nervous."

A program, and political battle Witten and other growers continue to monitor.



 
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