March 2019 - 8

Growers get proactive for worker relations
By Stephen Kloosterman
Associate Editor
Wage rates, federal and state labor
laws, food safety regulations and buyermandated
audits are making employers'
relationships with staff increasingly
more complicated.
Workers need to be trained in
procedures and best practices, but with
the added training (and with mandated
wage increases) they become more
valuable to their employers - both
financially and practically.
In this new labor market, some
growers are taking a proactive approach
to worker relations, using third-party
groups, including nonprofits, that offer
recruitment, training, audit services and
communication platforms in addition
to labor recruitment.
Andrew & Williamson Sales
has been growing tomatoes and
strawberries for over 30 years, and
farming organically for more than
15 years. It uses a variety of outside
resources to maintain good worker
relations. In 2015, the company started
an H-2A pilot programs with CIERTO,
a certified labor contractor, with just
32 farm workers. In 2019, Andrew &
Williamson has more than 900 guest
workers under the H-2A visa program.
" CIERTO assures clear, transparent
and safe recruitment, " said Amalia
Zimmerman-Lommel, director of
social responsibility for Andrew &
Williamson. " This means that the
potential farm worker will not receive
false and or misleading information
with promises that cannot be fulfilled.
Every person is trained by CIERTO to
understand what to expect during the
work visa process, what to expect upon
arrival to the host farm employer and
what their rights and responsibilities are
in the United States as a guest worker
under the H-2A visa program. "
Certified standards
Andrew & Williamson clients also
are certified by a nonprofit group, the
Equitable Food Initiative (EFI), which
certifies fresh produce growers who meet
rigorous standards for labor, food safety
and pest management. The certification
process includes an audit and a 40-hour
hands-on, interactive training activity for
farm management teams - including its
farm locations inside Mexico.
" The strength of our certification
lies in a mixed labor-management
leadership team that EFI trains in
problem-solving skills they use to
bring the farm into compliance with
our standards, " said EFI Executive
Director Peter O'Driscoll. " There is
always a place for specialized training
in technical competencies relevant to
specialty crops, focused on regulations,
HR systems, pesticide use, food safety
controls and so forth. While EFI
training covers these areas related
to our standards, the key difference
from other training courses is that the
intervention is designed to improve
workplace culture by creating new
8 |
An Andrew & Williamson team on a farm in Camalu, Mexico. Photos: Equitable Food Initiative
One member presents certification standards
to his leadership team in Culiacán, Mexico.
mechanisms and skills for labormanagement
collaboration that go far
beyond the technical content of other
courses in the marketplace. We're not
aware of other training providers who
are trying to introduce LEAN concepts
of continuous improvement to the
agricultural labor force. "
Zimmerman-Lommel said that
after EFI's training, the management
teams will continue to meet monthly
to discuss ways to improve the farm's
processes and communications, or any
other situations or issues that need the
attention of management.
" As a result, we have seen improved
ability to attract farm workers and a
higher retention rate in all regions, "
she said. " Part of the training and
education involves making farmworkers
aware of the supply chain and the vital
importance of their participation in
getting the products that we grow to the
consumers' table. With this higher level
of understanding, they become acutely
aware that they are the last people to
touch the fruits and vegetables before
they are consumed. "
Andrew & Williamson also uses a
communication platform called GANAZ
to share customer comments with the
workers, and also communicate with
them on a variety of issues such as
changes in the law, changes in work
schedules due to weather, or the start of
A team works on an action plan.
a new harvest season.
" Keeping many different channels of
communication open has been helpful
in the sustainability of our workforce,
Zimmerman-Lommel said.
Keeping best employees
O'Driscoll said growers should be
concerned about how to retain their
most valuable workers. The prices for a
week-long farm management training
runs about $16,000.
" In a tight labor market, growers
have to figure out how to become the
'employer of choice,' " he said. " And
in the era of the industry's Ethical
Charter on Responsible Labor Practices,
growers must also figure out how to
become the 'supplier of choice' to retail
customers who seek greater assurance
and transparency in their produce
supply chains. "
NatureSweet is a vertically-integrated
agriculture company with 18 different
growing facilities - 17 in Mexico and one
in Willcox, Arizona, with roughly 1,800
acres in greenhouses. Most of its workers
are full-time, year-round associates
with wages higher than others working
in the industry, said Kathryn Ault, vice
president of customer support and
service for NatureSweet.
" We are an organization that
is comfortable with giving and
demanding, " Ault said. " You reap what
Politicians, business leaders and workers
discuss the EFI workforce development
program at an Andrew & Williamson Fresh
Produce farm in Oxnard, Calif.
you sow and for giving a great job and
working conditions, we ask that our
associates have a good work ethic and
will show up to work every day. "
She said that the company has a
turnover rate of 2 percent, " unheard of
in agriculture, " and investment in its
workers pays off.
" The productivity of our associates
has increased significantly as a result of
us employing selectively from the local
labor pool, extensive and continuous
training and the nature of how we
organize our teams to complete tasks, "
Ault said. VGN

March 2019

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