Migrant Latino Cherry Pickers Work Flathead Orchards Through Smoke and Heat | Local News
Workers wear long pants in the heat to prevent the legs of the metal ladder from injuring their skin. The shirt’s long sleeves protect their arms from sharp branches, but that doesn’t always work after weeks of picking.
They carry large buckets strapped around their chests as they skillfully climb and pick cherries at a pace someone inexperienced could never duplicate.
Pulling up the right leg of his pants to show off his calf, Ortiz said that after years of picking cherries from the top of the ladders, he started to have black scars on the back of his calves from leaning against soles for hours.
Working 8 to 10 hours a day, they are paid according to the volume of cherries they pick. In an orchard, workers are paid $ 7 to fill a petty cash box. A fast-moving picker can clean an entire tree in about 10 minutes, but some orchards have thousands of trees.
Fili Garrido, who is from Guerrero, Mexico and is also now a resident of Yakima, said he has been picking cherries in the Flathead for 13 years. Now he’s still trying to hit the 10 minute selection goal.
Picking quickly means more crates of full cherries and less time in the sun and smoke, he said.
“The smoke and the heat haven’t really been a problem for me,” he said. “In Yakima, conditions can be much worse than here, but the smoke is still a factor that affects us nonetheless. I feel blessed to have a job right now.