Out of My Mind 9

Hardto play the game if you don’t know the rules

The federal Department ofLabor is inspecting family farms in Okanogan County and so far it sounds likethey are asking orchardists to play a game in which the DOL doesn’t want to letthe farmer in on the rules.

The federal agency isasking for documents for workers as well as payroll information and has beeninspecting orchard camps. At a recent meeting with the Okanogan County Farmbureau an emotional Geoff and Diane Thornton, Tonasket area orchardists,related their experience with these inspectors. At one point the Thorntonsaccused the inspectors of out and out lies when they sited the couple forviolations they knew didn’t exist just minutes before the inspectors enteredtheir orchard cabins. Even after levelling a $14,000 fine the Thorntons still didn’treceive a detailed list of what the violations were or time to come intocompliance. This doesn’t help the workers on the Thorntons’ farm because nowthey are living 16 miles away in the Harvest Park in Oroville instead of nearto their work. It doesn’t help the Thorntons who are footing the rent at the agworker housing because they still don’t know how to come into compliance withthe law.

You know when growerscompare OSHA and L&I for their straightforward way of dealing with thefarmer as compared to the DOL, something must be wrong with the agency.

Levelling a fine to just bepunitive, without trying to educate someone in how to become compliant justseems counterproductive. Okanogan orchardist Bob Blank said at the same meetingthat the inspectors were out of line and that he felt they had another agendaaltogether. Blank said he was even fined for a few pop cans someone had leftsitting on a porch step.

Those at the Farm Bureaumeeting came up with some good ideas, especially recording the inspectors everymovement as they do their inspection and demanding copies of their notes whenthey’re done. This seems a worthy cause for Senators Maria Cantwell and PattyMurray and Representative Cathy McMorris-Rogers to take up. The farmers aren’tasking the government to ignore the rules, just to give the growers a fightingchance at compliance without being levied unreasonable fines for minorproblems.

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