Winchester — A small, folded piece of paper revealed the bad news — the flight had been delayed.

The 59 Jamaican workers scheduled to fly into Maryland on Monday night would not be coming as planned.

"There’s been a problem with Air Jamaica," said Cindy Burke, manager of the migrant camp off Fairmont Avenue in Winchester.

Burke, who has worked at the camp for three years, is familiar with flight delays. But she was relieved that most of the workers had already arrived.

"Once it gets going, it’s very smooth," she said. "Getting them in and settled is a little hectic."

About 200 Jamaican workers have already settled into the migrant camp, but 60 more are expected.

These workers are part of the federal H-2A program, allowing them to work for local farmers who have proven they have a need for labor and can pay all the ensuing costs of international help.

The H-2A program has become a necessity as area farmers have a harder time finding local labor. Workers in the program can stay in the United States from six to 101/2 weeks. They must be legal immigrants and only seasonal workers.

Farmers who hire the migrant workers must pay all their traveling and housing expenses as well as a competitive wage. An H-2A worker earns between $7.39 and $9.60 an hour on average.

One Jamaican worker is eager to begin his job at Fruit Hill Farm.

Howard Barrett will begin his third year working in area orchards on Wednesday.

"It gets me money I can take back to my family," he said.


Although Jamaicans comprise the majority of the work force, about 100 Mexican and Haitian laborers are at the camp.

Burke anticipates having 400 workers living at the camp for the duration of the two-month harvesting season.

The camp has 20 buildings — including a recreation area, mess hall, and 18 barracks — with each ethnic group having its own living space.

All of the barracks have sleeping areas, bathrooms, showers, large sinks for washing clothes, and other amenities.

"There’s a kitchen on the end of each of these buildings," Burke said, gesturing to a barracks building. "On the other side of camp, they have a mess hall."

Barracks are filled with twin-size bed frames and yellow sponge mattresses. Each room can hold up to three men, but larger open spaces have 17 beds.

Before the workers arrive, the quarters are inspected by officials from the Lord Fairfax Health District.

In one of the large open rooms, six beds line each of the vertical walls and five beds are packed in the middle.

"Each guy has a locker and a bed," Burke said, walking past beds loaded with suitcases and electronic equipment.


Until he begins work later this week, Barrett is spending time socializing with co-workers at the camp.

He and several other Jamaicans grilled jerk chicken on Sunday. They began to meet up with familiar workers on Monday.

"I’m getting enough rest to begin picking," said Barrett, 30.

He expects to be busy from dawn until near dusk once harvesting begins. The typical picker’s schedule runs from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

They are served a hot breakfast at the mess hall, given a bagged lunch at the farm, and eat dinner back in the mess hall.

"It’s hard work, but we have to adjust to the schedule," Barrett said.

Migrant workers usually have Sunday off, but can work it to make up for inclement weather.

When he has time, Barrett plans to buy several items to take back home with him.

"I have a 1-year-old son and I want to buy him some learning materials," he said.

Purchasing gifts to be mailed back home is such a common practice among the workers that Burke arranges a time for a mass shipping.

"They buy things they can’t get in Jamaica," Burke said. "They buy bicycles, toys, tools. They ship them home."

A date and time for the shipment is usually given once the harvest season is fully under way.


* Began in 1943; revamped in 1986.

* Program has doubled in size over the past decade, bringing about 45,000 migrants into the United States.

* Each year, the Department of Labor sets an "adverse effect wage rate" for each state. This prevents migrant labor from being detrimental to U.S. workers.

* Employers must guarantee a worker three-quarters of the hours offered in the contract period. They must reimburse each worker for the cost of transportation from their home country to their place of employment and back.

Source: National Farm Worker Ministry

— Contact Jessica J. Burchard at ... icleID=814