Stronger Together US kicked off its webinar series in May with an intensive look at how Covid-19 is affecting the U.S. produce industry. The second installment of the series, “Covid-19 Crisis Management: Leading Practices in Worker Management and Communications,” focused on raising awareness of the impacts of Covid-19 on employer operations and how they are responding to the pandemic.
On the one hand, farm work is designated as an essential service, while on the other hand, resources and funds to protect the health of workers are scarce. In most cases, the responsibility and cost of managing and protecting the workforce in-keeping with the new rules is being borne by employers alone. We therefore sought views across the industry on what lessons we could draw.
We heard from three speakers, Guadalupe Sandoval, representing the California Farm Labor Contractor Association (CFLCA), a membership association with the mission to cultivate growth and viability for the industry; Goretti Calvo representing AgSocio, a full-service farm labor provider; and Tim Jackson from Driscoll’s, a seller of fresh strawberries and other berries, regarding their actions to keep workers safe.
Panelists agreed that businesses must be proactive, flexible, and adaptive to support their workers in an environment where health and safety guidance is changing constantly. Below are some of the practices that have been put in place:
- Personal care, health, and safety: Social distancing and the use of PPE (personal protection equipment) are required across the board. Social distancing is easier to implement and manage in the fields but becomes more challenging in environments such as housing, transportation, and packinghouses. Strategies to manage this include providing additional restrooms and handwashing stations with mandatory supervised handwashing (documented daily). In addition, health and safety education, and reinforcement of hygienic practices can complement the additional facilities. One panel member’s organization is bringing in staff from local hospitals to conduct training on social distancing and Covid-19 prevention.
- Communication and information: Now more than ever consistent and frequent information sharing is essential. First, employers and businesses must stay engaged with regulators such as the US Department of Labor (for H2A processing), OSHA, and the CDC, to understand and comply with emerging information and changing policies and guidance. As an example of engagement, CFLCA, invited California legislators to speak with crews on what they can expect from government programs such as CARES Act. In many cases, the available information is not Ag-specific. This requires businesses to adapt and contextualize resources for their various audiences and partners. HR Policies and Team Member Communications should be available in multiple languages with highly visual signage to help reach more workers and dispel misinformation. Methods of communication can include group Q&A sessions like small group tailgates, text messages, paycheck stuffers, and posting flyers in housing units, break rooms, etc.
Whilst many new practices are being implemented that seem to be proving effective in reducing the spread of Covid-19 there are big challenges yet to be overcome. Some of the overarching challenges that we heard during the discussion include:
- Evolution of regulatory requirements: Responding and balancing federal, state, and county requirements where contractors operate across multiple counties, which are varied and ever evolving, is an enormous challenge. Multinational companies such as Driscoll’s have global teams attempting to navigate regulations across multiple countries, including Mexico, the US, and Canada.
- General competition for resources: It is no secret that all industries are dealing with a shortage of funds, supplies, and resources – anything from PPE to hand sanitizing stations, to sufficient housing and transportation that allows for social distancing and certainly funding. Who will ultimately bear the financial cost of adapting to Covid-19 is still to be determined.
- Testing and health monitoring: Currently, there are not enough Covid-19 tests, personnel, and other medical equipment to monitor symptoms across the agricultural community.
- Social challenges: Social distancing effectively requires a shift in culture. From the panelists experience, this is particularly evident in the farmworker community where often natural camaraderie and sharing of personal resources such as food is the norm.
The conclusion to the panel discussion is that continued collaboration, transparency, and information-sharing will be needed to protect workers during and post the Covid-19 crisis, and to ensure the viability of domestic food production.
Click here to listen to the full discussion and to register for future Stronger Together US webinars: www.stronger2gether.org/us-events.
Also, for some useful resources, CFLCA put together a resources page with an assortment of information extracted from various organizations and government agencies regarding the Covid-19 virus.
Categorised in: United States