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Vaccinations are key focus for Santa Maria grower-shippers

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The past 12 months have highlighted Santa Maria area grower-shippers’ ongoing commitment to employee health and safety, not to mention their ability to adapt quickly to changing market conditions, says Claire Wineman. Wineman, president of the Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, said the past year has been unprecedented for growers in the region.

A clear focus in March 2021 was coordinating employee vaccinations, she said, but the past year also has highlighted the need for regulations that are based in science and well thought out. “I think looking forward to this coming year, we hope that globally, we will be moving past COVID and continue to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to employee health and safety, and navigating changing conditions.”

The progress of vaccination varies, with several grower-shippers responding to a survey the late week of March indicating anywhere from 30% to more than 90% of their workers had been vaccinated. Wineman said there are no official statistics on the progress of vaccinations in the farmworker community, but she said the effort to vaccinate has been a process of building acceptance with continuing education and outreach. That, she said, is combined with continuing other practices that protect public health, recognizing there will be various degrees of vaccination in communities and households. Wineman said the association has about 170 members overall, including growers, shippers, labor contractors and supporting agribusinesses.

While COVID-19-related issues have been the primary focus, Wineman said growers are also paying attention to the regional water board’s contemplation of a new irrigated lands regulatory program for region three, which runs through Santa Barbara County, into part of Ventura County and all the way to Monterey County. “They are approaching adoption of a new regulatory program, and that’s going to have a significant impact on production in the coming years,” she said. The regional water board is specifically looking at water quality issues, she said, which likely will have implications for fertilizer management.

Another big issue for growers is the increase in the California minimum wage — rising from $14 per hour in 2014 to $15 per hour in 2022 — and the phaseout of overtime exemptions for farmworkers. Previously, California law mandated that farmworkers were entitled to overtime pay after their 10th hour of work per day, whereas other hourly employees are paid an overtime rate after their eighth hour of work. The new rules, phased in over time, will make farmworker overtime consistent with other California hourly employees after 2022.

Source: The Packer