Housing at a Premium for Migrant Workers

{youtube}1PV4lB0f19Q&list?ref=0{/youtube} DEBLOIS — It’s August in Maine and housing is at a premium — especially for some of the estimated 1,000 migrant and seasonal workers in Downeast Maine.

Ian Yaffe, executive director of Mano en Mano in Milbridge, said that while blueberry growers provide housing for most temporary workers at no charge, others in more densely populated areas such as Ellsworth are left to fend for themselves.

In late July, police were asked to help remove about 20 female migrant workers from a room at the Ramada.

The women told police they had run out of money and moved from four rooms into one. Police said they left without incident.

“The blueberry harvest occurs during the busiest time of year in Maine,” Yaffe said. “The only way it becomes affordable is by cramming as many people as possible into the space.”

One migrant worker, who did not want to be named, told the American he was sharing a room at the Ellsworth Motel with six other men. His cost is $35 a week.

The men, he said, exchange sleeping space after working 12 hour shifts at Allen’s Blueberry Freezer Inc. in Ellsworth.

Juan Pérez-Febles, state monitor advocate for the Maine Department of Labor, said workers don’t gripe about the overcrowding because they want to be invited back.

“They want to make money and not complain,” he said. “They’ll say, ‘We’re used to living this way. It’s not a problem.’”

The migrant workers are particularly fearful about losing work in face of the ever decreasing number of jobs as a result of mechanization.

“When I started in 1993 Wyman’s had 17 raking crews of 65 to 80 people each,” said Pérez-Febles. “Now they have four.”

Pérez-Febles has inspected company-provided housing for migrant workers since 1993 and said the company housing provided in Downeast Maine meets and exceeds standards.

For more business news, pick up a copy of The Ellsworth American.

Jacqueline Weaver

Jacqueline Weaver

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Jacqueline's beat covers the eastern Hancock County towns of Lamoine through Gouldsboro as well as Steuben in Washington County. She was a reporter for the New York Times, United Press International and Reuters before moving to Maine. She also publicized medical research at Yale School of Medicine and scientific findings at Yale University for nine years.[email protected]
Jacqueline Weaver

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