Last month I wrote about union power. This month is about employer power — the power to do right and in so doing, to render unions irrelevant.
Maria packs broccoli in the field. Her employer pays her a good wage and offers health benefits. She also knows that she can speak in confidence with anyone in management, including the owners, about any workplace concerns she may have or to offer suggestions.
One week, she met privately with a company executive at the side of the field to tell him something. She is happy the company buys gloves for the crew, but there are problems with this brand of gloves. She knows there is a different type that is more comfortable and grips better. These different gloves will help her and her co-workers do a better job with greater comfort. Two weeks later, she and her co-workers got new gloves — the gloves she suggested. Maria and her co-workers now have much more than just a new pair of gloves. They have a sense of pride and belonging, a feeling that they are respected and valued for their work and integrity.
Maria and her co-workers know the management of her company will listen and act on the concerns of their employees, even if it’s something that seems small in comparison to issues like pay and benefits. There is mutual respect at this company. Maria benefits, her co-workers benefit and the employer benefits. Does she need a union to take 3 percent of her take-home pay in order to make things better in her workplace?
This is a true story from a longtime Western Growers member. Every week, the leadership of this company makes sure to visit every work crew. They have told every worker that at these weekly visits, any employee can leave their work for a few minutes to privately share any concern or question. Confidentiality is always maintained, and management makes sure to follow up promptly.
Over the years, this same company has seen United Farm Workers Union organizers attempt to persuade its workers to vote for the union. The union has been rejected by the workers every time.
Yes, unions have been effective in California’s political arena, getting laws passed that tip the scales in their favor and blocking legislation that would reduce burdens on employers. But your workforce is not the California Legislature. When it comes down to it, workers will only go for unionization if their grievances have not been met, if they are not respected and if employers ignore their suggestions.
It all starts with wages and benefits. Do you know if yours are competitive?
Western Growers is completing its fifth annual Compensation & HR Practices Survey. It is a valuable tool and if you haven’t participated, you should. We also sell the survey results (results are free to those companies that participate) which will tell you where you stand among other employers of similar size, geography and capacity. Are you paying enough? What are others offering in terms of health and retirement benefits? There are many reasons to make a good self-evaluation and get a comparison of how your company stacks up with others. Are you building relationships with your employees and treating them well? How do you know that?
I am often troubled by the perpetuation of the myth that farmers in California and Arizona treat their workers poorly, paying minimum wage or even breaking the law by paying less, failing to offer health and other benefits, or placing employees in dangerous working conditions. In the many decades that I’ve worked with farmers, I have seen the truth. Most of our employees earn more than minimum wage, often considerably more, and many employees in agriculture have good health benefits as well as vacation, sick leave and sometimes profit-sharing and 401(k) plans. Health and safety issues are taken seriously, and many farm companies go above and beyond strict state regulations.
Unions perpetuate myths about low pay and poor working conditions because it’s the only way they can justify their never-ending push for new legislation favoring unionization. The good people in our industry need to do more to dispel these myths. The story about Maria is just one of thousands that must be shared with people outside our industry.
I derive great strength and passion from our farmers because I have seen what is truly in their hearts.
A few years ago in Yuma, Gary Pasquinelli of Pasquinelli Produce hosted a gathering of Catholic Bishops to discuss immigration reform. The bishops took tours of fields and packing houses and were then briefed on how Gary runs his company and treats his workers. He provides health insurance, a 401(k) plan, sick leave, vacation leave, and above-average wages. When he told the bishops this, one noted that Gary offers far more to his workers than the legal minimum wage and asked him, “Doesn’t it cost you a lot of money?” Gary, a deacon in his church, nodded and said “Yes,” and as his eyes started to get misty, he said, “But they are God’s children just as I am.”
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Western Growers members care deeply for the food they grow, the land they sustain, the people they employ, and the community in which they live.