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In Depth: Foreign Workers in Central Virginia

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Crown Orchard Crown Orchard
Mas Labor Mas Labor
Libby Whitely Libby Whitely
Trump Winery bottles (FILE) Trump Winery bottles (FILE)
ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) -

An Albemarle County winery thrust into the spotlight for hiring foreign workers due to its ties to the Trump family is not the only business in central Virginia to use a federal program.

The U.S. Department of Labor has again approved Trump Winery's requested to bring in farm workers through the H-2A visa program.

The winery, which is operated by President Donald Trump's son, Eric, had requested 23 foreign workers this year, and came under scrutiny due to the president's talk of American jobs for American workers.

Trump Winery is actually one of at least six wineries in the NBC29 viewing area that has applied for H-2A visas since January 2016.

Business

Number of Workers
Requested

Dates
Barboursville
Vineyards
16 01/10/2016
Crown Orchard 44
48
02/21/2017
02/25/2016
Glass House
Winery
1 01/29/2016
Grace Estate
Winery
6 01/19/2016
Horton
Vineyards
9
9
10

03/01/2017
12/06/2016
03/17/2016

Madison County
Wines LLC
12 11/22/2016
Trump Winery

23
6
19

02/16/2017
12/19/2016
02/18/2016

The federal program requires these employers to make some specific efforts to hire workers locally, before taking this avenue.

"We do advertise locally, and try to get local workers, that's what we would really prefer to have. But to get the trained, reliable, dependable workers that'll be here every day when we need them, the H-2A is the best program at the time being," said Crown Orchard Co-Owner Judy Chiles.

"It's not unskilled labor. It's highly-skilled labor, but it's manual labor," said Mas Labor President Libby Whitely.

Lovingston-based Mas Labor is one of the leading companies that helps employers get set up with these foreign workers. The company says it helps nearly 1,000 employers in 46 states navigate paperwork for nearly 20,000 employees.

"It's hard to find Americans to want to do these jobs," Whitley said.

Mas Labor says about 80 percent of its clients come from Mexico.

"Unfortunately orchard business is not very mechanized. All the trees have to be pruned by hand, thinned by hand and picked by hand," said Chiles.

Experts say there's another issue: the work doesn't last. But it is still work that business owners like Chiles say they can't do without.

"With the fruit industry, it won't wait. When the peaches are ready to pick, they need to be picked and we need to have a reliable labor source," she said.

Experts say a common misconception of the program is that these foreign workers make less than minimum wage, but that's not the case. According to the application, Trump Winery plans to pay its workers a little more than $11 an hour.

Neither Trump Winery nor the other wineries mentioned agreed to an interview for this story.

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