Heat Illness Prevention for Field Workers

Farmers Guard Their Most Valuable Asset

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

When temperatures are heating up, it’s important that growers are keeping farm employees safe to prevent exhaustion and heat-related illnesses and to ensure that their employees go home to their families at the end of the day.

On an average day, temperatures in fields can range from eight to 10 degrees hotter than the average temperature in the area.

“We try always to have a regular tailgate meeting to remind all of our farm employees about the hazards of working when temperatures are more than 80 degrees,” said Ron Samuelson, a Fresno County grower who produces almonds and cherries. “We educate our employees about the importance of drinking water, the emergency procedures if needed. And for increased prevention, we are in constant contact with the workers throughout the day.”

heat illness
Some type of shade must be available to field employees when temperatures reach 80 degrees.

Samuelson said that shade is essential once temperatures reach around 80 degrees and they make sure there is adequate shade in the morning if temperatures are going to get to that high.

“If field employees are in an almond orchard where there are mature trees, there is adequate \shade for them to sit and rest under a tree to cool down,” Samuelson explained. “And when the temperature begins to reach 100 degrees, it’s not uncommon for work to stop to give employees a break from the heat.”

“If temperatures go over 95 degrees, we employ other procedures. The first thing we would do is to talk to the guys to get their input as to what’s their thoughts on how soon they want to stop working for the day.”

“A lot of times, we’ll start a little bit earlier and knock off earlier. Then we take breaks more often as well. We try to maintain that, encourage them to drink at least a quart per hour throughout the day. We make sure they let us know if the water jugs are down to a gallon are less. That way we can get them refilled right away.”

Employee safety is paramount because it would be impossible for farmers to farm without them.

“So it’s essential to help them get through the day and avoid heat stress. At the end of the day, our employees matter most,” Samuelson said.

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H2-A is Only Legal Solution For Labor Without Immigration Reform

H2-A is Heart of One Farm Labor Contractor

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

H2-A employees are the heart of one major farm labor company. Steve Scaroni owns Fresh Harvest, a premier labor provider and staffing and harvesting company to the agricultural industry and the western United States. But the company’s main emphasis has always harvested crops related to salads; they have also expanded into permanent crops.

“Last year, we started citrus and pears, and we will continue to expand in vegetables with anything that goes into a salad, lots of head lettuce, romaine, and broccoli, which is what we have been doing for a long time,” Scaroni said.

And then we touch a lot of salads every day. The H2-A temporary agricultural program allows agricultural employers when anticipating a shortage in domestic workers to bring non-migrant foreign workers to the US to perform agricultural services for a temporary or seasonal nature.

Steve Scaroni

“If it wasn’t for H2-A, I wouldn’t be in business. I mean that’s the only way to get a legal worker into California to serve my customers demands for the services we offer, which is mostly labor and harvesting,” Scaroni said.

“And we’re even starting to do a lot of farm services. We’re bringing up 100 irrigators this year to put throughout the Salinas Valley because our Salinas customers can’t get enough irrigators,” he said.

Being a labor contractor has its difficulties. It takes a lot of work. It’s a very bureaucratic process-driven application process.

“Laborers that show great work ethic will be able to work for a longer period of time. A worker could technically stay if I can move it from contract to contract, and I can keep the temporary employee for three years,” Scaroni said. “But then he has to go back for 90 days, but it’s very hard to time the contracts for that to work.”

“So most guys, they’ll do five, six, seven months. They’ll go home before they can come back. And then the guys that are really good workers with and a great attitude and really get it done for us. We’ll move to another contract. Will even retrain them in a different crop if they have the right attitude and work ethic,” he said.

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Who Safeguards CA Farm Workers’ Rights? Part 5

Post-Labor Day, Forced Unionization Hearing at CA Supreme Court

 

By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor

 

Forced Unionization Hearing

On Tuesday, Sept. 5, one day after Labor Day, busloads of concerned farmers and farm workers will arrive at the Supreme Court of California in San Francisco to support Gerawan Farming and farm workers—and quite possibly 80,000 family farms in the state—against forced unionization in the first case on the Court’s agenda:  Gerawan Farming, Inc. v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board (United Farm Workers of America, Real Party in Interest) and Consolidated Case, S227243 (Kline, P. J., assigned justice pro tempore).

 

Gerawan Case History

Explaining the case history, David Schwarz, attorney for Gerawan Farming, Inc. from the Los Angeles-based law firm of Irell & Manella LLP, said, “This case began almost five years ago in mid-October of 2012. The United Farm Workers (UFW) sent a letter to Gerawan Farming demanding that the company resume bargaining over a collective bargaining agreement. The UFW had won an election at Gerawan in 1990 and was certified to represent the workers by the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) in 1992. After one preliminary negotiating session in early 1995, the union disappeared and wasn’t heard from by Gerawan for nearly 20 years.”

 

“The UFW resurfaced in late 2012 demanding negotiations,” Schwarz stated, “but after ten bargaining sessions, the union abandoned the bargaining table.” This scenario was similar to UFW’s behavior after having won several certification elections by California farm workers employed on separately-owned farms but was unable to obtain first contracts with many growers on behalf of these farm workers.

 

Farm Worker Rights under the Agricultural Labor Relations Act 

According to the ALRB website, all agricultural employees in California, whether or not they are represented by a labor organization (union), have certain rights under the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA or Act). The purpose of the Act is to ensure peace in the agricultural fields by guaranteeing justice for all agricultural workers and stability in labor relations. The ALRA became law in 1975.

The Act describes and protects the rights of agricultural employees to make their own decisions about whether or not they want a union to negotiate with their employer about their wages, hours, and other working conditions. Where the employees, through a secret ballot election, have selected a union to represent them, the Act requires that the employer bargain in good faith with the union concerning wages, hours, and other working conditions.

The Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) is the state agency established to enforce the Act.

 

Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation (MMC)

“At this juncture, UFW invoked a process known as “Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation (MMC), a euphemism for forced-contracting, passed by the legislature in 2002 at the behest of UFW,” Schwarz explained. “Through MMC, the State of California imposes a contract on the employer and its farm workers at the union’s request. In Gerawan’s case, the failure to reach a contract can be explained by the failure of the UFW to show up and attempt to negotiate; however, that failure to bargain—or for that matter, the union’s complete abandonment of the Gerawan farm workers—was deemed irrelevant in the eyes of the ALRB.”

Count our votes Farm workers' rights UFW Endorsement

“The ALRB argued that the union certification in 1992 means the UFW remains the perpetual representative of Gerawan workers now and forever,” said Schwarz, “and until such time as the workers vote the union out through a petitioned election process known as decertification.” The ALRB disregarded both UFW’s failure to represent Gerawan farm workers in any successful contract negotiation and the UFW’s failure to qualify to collect union dues from Gerawan farm workers. Most significantly, the ALRB disregarded the legally-sanctioned and ALRB-supervised election on November 5, 2013, in which Gerawan farm workers had the opportunity to vote to decertify the UFW or not—the ballots of which have never been counted and are believed to be stored in an unknown, unsecured location.

 

“Let’s be clear,” Schwarz explained, “at no point after this union was certified until this union invoked the MMC process, was there an allegation that Gerawan refused to show up or refused to negotiate the terms of the contract. So this is not a case about a grower refusing to show up at the bargaining table or a grower inserting that the abandonment forfeits the right of the union to bargain.”

 

“Rather, this is a case about whether or not the union’s abandonment means that it forfeits the right to compel the State of California to force a contracting process on the workers. And that’s the key difference: between duty to bargain, which is a continuous bargain, and the right, as the union claims, to impose a state-ordered contract.”

 

What is at Stake for Farm Workers?

 

Tal Cloud, president and co-founder of Fresno-based family-owned Paper Pulp & Film, Inc., a converter of printing and industrial papers, including raisin (drying) trays, is part of the team that organized the trip. Cloud said, “The UFW and the California ALRB are hoping the California Supreme Court will rule in their favor by forcing unionization on California farms and farm workers—the next flash point in the two-decade long battle between Gerawan Farming and the UFW.”

 

“People don’t understand that this is incrementalism,” Cloud said. “If the California Supreme Court rules against Gerawan, it literally puts every agricultural operation of any size in the state right in the “bulls-eye” for mandatory UFW unionization, and that is what is so concerning. And although people do not understand it, the laws are already all there; they just need to be formalized. So, yes, it is really scary.”

 

“The ALRB has power in these courts due to California legislators who have given the ALRB all these powers, but without checks or balances,” said Cloud. “So, you have an agency that basically plays god with people’s lives and there are no legitimate governmental organizations or courts looking at it, until now that [the forced unionization case] has come to the California Supreme Court.”

 

The upcoming California Supreme Court hearing follows the UFW’s appeal of a lower court ruling in favor of Gerawan on the same issue in 2015. “We are hoping that the Court goes by the law, and does not give [the ALRB and UFW] this kind of opportunity to really put all of our operations in California at risk for forced unionization and forced contracts,” Cloud said.

 

“The bus trip on Tuesday is to make a statement and not sit by silently. The hearing is at 9:00 A.M., and more than 300 people from the Valley are going. We are leaving at 3:30 AM, providing food for our passengers and protesting outside the Supreme Court. The UFW also will be rallying at the Supreme Court.

 

It remains uncertain if farm workers will be allowed inside the courtroom. Cloud said, “There has already been a lot of back and forth about not allowing any farm workers, or Silvia Lopez (the Gerawan farm worker spokesperson) into the courtroom. The attorneys are still fighting on that. But there will be a big protest, so to speak, outside.”

 

“There are public areas for us to be in, and we will be peaceful like all the other demonstrations that we have done,” Cloud said. “My hope is that everyone stays safe and we do not have extremists or rabble-rousers there who try to cause problems.”

 

Cloud said there is a glimmer of hope for the farming industry because the UFW lost to the lower courts. “But, you just don’t know. We are hoping these farmers, farm workers and protesters will bring attention to this issue,” he said.

 

Once the California Supreme Court hearing is completed, the court will have 90 days to make its ruling. “The reality is:  If agriculture does not get behind the effort against MMC now, and the California Supreme Court reverses the lower court’s decision, literally every farming organization in California could face unionization. And that is a scary thought,” said Cloud.

 

“Likewise, if the ruling goes against the UFW,” Cloud said, “I am sure the case will go to United States Supreme Court, which would certainly be a do-or-die point for agriculture.”


Who Safeguards CA Farm Workers’ Rights? Part 6 – Facts vs. PR

 

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