Posted: Nov 21, 2011 6:15 PM by Nancy Chen
Updated: Nov 22, 2011 8:13 AM
With a nearly 12 percent unemployment rate statewide, you'd imagine most job openings would have applicants lined up around the block, but one local man says he had a difficult time keeping almost any workers on the job.
John Salisbury owns Salisbury Vineyards in Avila Valley and Paso Robles. He needed 32 grape pickers fast for the harvest season in late September and put the call out for anyone to apply, even if they didn't have any experience, advertising on his website and on the radio.
As the saying goes, no wine before its time, but when they're ready, they're ready.
"The idea is to be able to pick them in that one day and get them while they're perfect, but if you have to wait two or three more days, you've maybe missed a peak time," he said.
Workers had to be able to lift 35 pounds, keep up with crews and provide all necessary documentation.
Salisbury now calls his experience a social experiment gone awry. It was ill-fated from the beginning; Salisbury started with 40 applicants, but only seven actually finished the job.
The sixth-generation farmer immediately cut twenty applicants because they only wanted cash so they didn't jeopardize their unemployment checks.
After an application process, their pool of scheduled interviewees was down to 22; of those, four didn't appear, so they just took all 18 locals.
For about seven hours of work, pickers would get somewhere between ten to twelve dollars an hour; eighty dollars was guaranteed. Salisbury says workers were given breaks of fifteen minutes every two hours and half an hour for lunch.
That, however, was tricky too. Salisbury started out with 18 people. Four days later, he was down to just seven, and he doesn't think any of them will be back next year.
Almost all quit, saying they just couldn't handle the work. Though some of those who left were in their 40's and 50's, Salisbury says he's frustrated with those just past their 18th birthday, some of which were volunteered by their mothers.
"Some of them just never worked before, and it's scary we have a generation that's being coddled," he said.
He said his frustration isn't about younger generations who are used to technology and are more likely to use an Apple than pick one; it's about a work ethic lacking across the years.
"They haven't had a paper route, or they haven't had to do chores around the house," she said. "And things you grow up on with some kind of an allowance. I don't know. We're just seeing a whole different bunch than we did 20 years ago."
As a 30-year veteran worker, Alberto Toribio had his reservations even before the crew started and went straight to Salisbury.
"Talked to him once and then a second time and then a third time to make sure what he's going to do is the right thing," he said.
But the workers came anyway, and Toribio says almost instantly, he heard complaints.
"It's a long waste of time and waste of money," he said.
In the end, with grapes going past their prime, Salisbury had to bring in a veteran crew, 75 percent made up of women. It immediately lapped those citizens who signed on.
Salisbury says his experience is symbolic of others nationwide, where it's getting harder and harder to find guest workers to pick crops.
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