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The third book in my Campground Mystery series, Dying to Work Camp, is now available in larger print at Amazon. The story takes place in the State of Washington during the apple harvest where a handful of “working campers” help an orchard owner pick apples.
Although I don’t get into as much trouble as my main character, I must confess that being a Full-Time RVer is just as exciting. The idea behind this mystery came to me while touring an apple processing plant during the harvest season. The tour guide was discussing the latest imaging technology, while I was thinking, “What a great place for a murder!”
We were fortunate to explore the area and visit an apple orchard during the harvest. The photo above was taken at the edge of the orchard – where the property dropped into a steep bank and below was a deep lake. Until we heard the train, we hadn’t even noticed the tracks below!
It was certainly a memorable visit – from the farming community of Quincy to the surreal drive to the city of Wenatchee – the “Apple Capital of the World”. Beyond Wenatchee are peaks and mountains that lead to the “Bavarian Village” of Leavenworth.
Fortunately, we didn’t end-up battered, bruised and bin-deep in murder as my main character did!
You see a work-camp job ad that sounds too good to be true… you apply. A week or so later you get a phone call or email from that employer… and you find out what was too good to be true indeed was. In fact, they seem to have forgotten what their ad stated. Or, they apologize for their ad being wrong in the first place. Okay, it happens… but several times over a few weeks?
I have been chatting with other work-campers having the same increase in “bait and switch” offers this season. Most of the jobs have either had a cut in weekly work hours (that minimize pay) or have increased the number of work hours needed to keep your camp site (and reduces the hours of pay received for hours worked over minimum site hours – if applicable). And a few have actually cut their seasonally help date from May to June and November to Labor Day weekend. This is definitely an inconvenience for those who gave notice to their current employer, only to find out they had nowhere to go for a month (or more) between jobs.
Unfortunately, the work-camp world is not getting any better. More folks are joining the ranks of work-camping only to discover jobs are not paying what they promised. And those who had previously only worked-for-site or volunteer opportunities have found their outside income stretched in these economic conditions and in need of some sort of stipend or wages to supplement the increase in food and fuel costs.
When applying for jobs or responding to employers it is necessary to double-check everything! Don’t assume you get a free site. Some employers are now charging site and/or electricity. Their park may offer WiFi or Cable TV, but don’t assume it is free for work-campers. Many still charge a monthly or weekly fee for these services.
Create a worksheet of questions to ask potential employers. See Know Before You Go for ideas on what you should ask and verify.
It is absolute vital you get a contract, signed by both parties stating the start/end dates, compensation (wages, site, cable…), job/duties and anything else pertinent to the position. This not only protects the work-camper, but also the employer. It gives them assurance that you will be there throughout the season or determined period.
Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be a little smarter in your search and you’ll find the right job situation for you.
I just received an email from some Full-Timing friends who announced that this was their last year of work-camping. And this is not the first notice we have received from friends in 2009.
What has happened to those “living the dream”? A variety of things have changed this last year – one of which is the economy.
Many folks who live the Full-Time (or Seasonal) RV lifestyle saw an increase in the number of work-camp opportunities available (in fact, many places were begging for help by offering fuel/travel incentives or end-of-season bonuses), yet with the economic situation workers either could not afford to work these jobs or get there (fuel costs). And by “not afford” I mean that some employers have reduced benefits for RVers or cut them out completely.
It was an affordable lifestyle – living at your workplace or nearby for free. Now many campgrounds and resorts want you to pay a reduced or “nominal” (which appears to be a favored word for employers) campsite fee, in addition to working for them at minimum wage. And most of these offer low hours, not even guaranteeing the money you make working will pay for your campsite, electricity and other expenses.
And there are those who have the “work-for-site, extra hours paid” offer. These employers require you to work a certain number of hours per week (usually between 20-30) for your campsite. Any hours worked over that time are paid. So if you were to work 24 hours a week for your site and you worked 30 hours, you would only get paid for 6 hours of work. The problem our friends have had with this is that if you figure out the value of the campsite and hours worked, you are getting very well below minimum wage.
I recently did the math on a job advertised in a work-camping site and you worked for $1 an hour. Of course, this amount was not from their ad. They had a completely different “camp site value” in their ad than the one from the price listed for monthly rentals on their updated website. It was actually cheaper not to work there and just pay for a campsite!
And some employers are offering crazy deals. I actually received an email last week from one in Montana that said they needed help and “might pay” if we were “up to haggling” with them. Then there was the one that said if you put down a deposit your site and worked the required hours to pay for it in trade for the entire season, they would give you a seasonal bonus. No mention of what became of your deposit, but ironically, the bonus amount was the same! My personal favorite is the theme park which requires you to pay for your campsite and then gives you a bonus at the completion of the season which they even tell you can be used to reimburse your campsite. Not a true bonus, just a refund of what you have been paying them over the summer.
Another change is those who employee work-campers. They seem to have forgotten that those who work-camp are not only workers, but potential guests.
Employers are sending vague emails or leaving generic phone messages. If they come across your email or phone number they want all your information without telling you anything about the position. In several cases, we have received emails that do not even mention the place or location! Just a name and “I need help. Send me your information. If I like what I see, I’ll contact you.” One didn’t even include a name!
Now work-camping is no different when it comes to applying for any other job. If you walk into the local grocery store and put in an application, you know where you are applying to. Some employers now want to be secretive, either that or they must be collecting people’s personal information. I would not send any personal information to anyone who does not identify themself, their position, the name of the company they work for, the job location and the position. Furthermore, I want to know what I am being considered for before I send personal information. If you are a computer person, why send information to someone who wants you to scrub toilets everyday? Not only are they wasting their time, they are wasting yours. Unfortunately, this type of employer response has increased the last year.
A friend of ours received an email from a potential employer in Florida and the information did not mention if the job included pay and/or full-hookups (FHUs). It was a high-end park so she politely emailed back that they were interested; however, wanted to be sure the job included FHUs at the very least. The employer emailed back that was something to be discussed after being hired and if they hired them, they would then be told if it included compensation and FHUs! Later she found out through another work-camp couple that it was a volunteer job (36 hours a week, each person) and that you received a site at a “nominal fee” and you were required to pay utilities, plus you had limited access to the facilities, even though you worked and paid to live there!
Fortunately, our friends have been good at circulating information about these so-called employers and their “opportunities”. If the business is a campground or RV resort, we cross them off our Woodall’s and Trailer Life books. Why bother doing business with people like that? With the power of the internet, let the world know how unprofessional these employers are!
Many folks are giving up the work-camp dream this year. I honestly can’t blame them. Even some of the sites devoted to work-camp jobs have added sections on work-at-home (or RV in our case!) and other money-making schemes. If they have given up on living the dream, then maybe the rest of us need to wake up from it.