Trump Winery Is Seeking Visas For Foreign Workers

Jan 12, 2017
Originally published on January 13, 2017 4:41 pm
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Donald Trump talks a lot about creating jobs for Americans, so it raised some eyebrows when Trump's son Eric asked to bring six workers from Mexico to tend his vineyard near Charlottesville, Va. The Departments of Labor, State and Homeland Security have to sign off on visas for guest workers. The president of course nominates the heads of those departments. That concerns other Virginia wine makers. From WVTF, Sandy Hausman reports.

SANDY HAUSMAN, BYLINE: At this time of year, grape vines are dormant, but workers at Veritas Winery in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains are busy pruning.

ANDREW HODSON: January the 22 is called St. Vincent's day, and St. Vincent is the patron saint of vines. And according to tradition, one starts pruning on January 22.

HAUSMAN: Owner Andrew Hodson is getting an early start to produce fewer grapes.

HODSON: This paradox that the more fruit a vine produces, the lower is the quality of the fruit.

HAUSMAN: And with a hundred acres, Hodson needs help shaping the vines by hand.

HODSON: To provide the maximum exposure to light and also to provide air through the canopy because if there's no air movement, that predisposes to fungal infections.

HAUSMAN: So the company spent five years training 10 Mexican-Americans who live in nearby Waynesboro. Albino Zurita is the crew's chief.

ALBINO ZURITA: And I try to do the best I can. I try to learn every year something new.

(SOUND OF CORK POPPING, WINE POURING)

HAUSMAN: At Horton Winery 40 miles east of Veritas, it's another story. Winemaker Michael Heny relies on 18 people who come from Mexico on H-2A visas for 10 months a year.

MICHAEL HENY: We're fortunate in having had much of the same crew over the past 20 years and, you know, really their knowledge is amazing. And they can say, well, like, you know the eighth row, the fourth panel down, the third plant, the left side? I'm a little worried about it.

HAUSMAN: The winery covers roundtrip transportation from Mexico, housing, food, weekly trips to Wal-Mart and pay of $10.72 an hour. Horton's does advertise for help, as required by the Labor Department before H-2A visas are issued. But Heny says they haven't had much luck attracting skilled locals.

HENY: Everyone wants to be outside when it's nice in April, but they're less eager to be outside when it's cold in January.

HAUSMAN: If the federal government were to block visas for his Mexican workers, Heny says the vineyard would be in trouble. He hopes the presence of a nearby winery owned by Donald Trump's son Eric won't hurt his company in the competition for visas.

HENY: We hope that it doesn't affect the labor that we really depend on to make a quality product and run this whole business.

HAUSMAN: At Mas Labor, the nation's largest H-2A employment agency, Libby Whitley doubts the White House would act against small wineries that compete with Trump.

LIBBY WHITLEY: I've worked with Trump vineyards for years. They understand their obligations under the law. I have no reason to believe that the scenario that you posit would even remotely enter anybody's mind.

HAUSMAN: But she is worried about the future of guest worker programs in general given the criticism they've drawn from attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions and other allies of President-elect Trump. For NPR News, I'm Sandy Hausman in Charlottesville, Va.

(SOUNDBITE OF SANDY HAUSMAN SONG, "PEOPLE AS DESTINATION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.