Sonoma County Vineyards Look to Hire Foreign Workers

In this Sept. 24, 2010 photo, Benjamin Reynosa, 49, of Orange Cove, picks table grapes near Fowler, Calif. As the economy tanked over the past two years, the immigration debate has focused on whether immigrants are taking jobs Americans want. Here, amid the sweltering melon fields and vineyards of the nation's top farm state, where one of every eight people is still out of a job, the answer is no. (AP Photo/Garance Burke)

A number of Sonoma County vineyards are looking to hire foreign workers to help combat a growing labor shortage.  Some North Coast vineyard management companies and wineries are turning to the federal H-2A program, which allows agriculture employers to hire foreign guest workers for jobs lasting up to ten months.  According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, local businesses requested almost 300 foreign workers this year to work at Sonoma County farms through the H-2A program.  The Sonoma County Winegrowers trade group last month reported the local industry employs over five-thousand full-time workers, supplemented by about 26-hundred seasonal workers.