California Fresh Fruit Association's Ian LeMay Shares Labor and Safety are Top Priorities in Tight Workforce Market
CALIFORNIA - If forewarned is forearmed, the produce industry is always ready when it comes to safety precautions. This is what California Fresh Fruit Association (CFFA) President Ian LeMay recently reminded me when I called to check in on whether the latest double-back on mask mandates has had any impact on labor in California ag, specifically fresh produce.
“We have maintained a significant advantage as our members have remained vigilant and have always kept employee safety as a top priority. Many of our members maintained the daily temperature check-ins, and in many facilities masking policies never stopped despite the easing of California mandates,” Ian shared.
As a result, the association and its members have seen a minimal presence of COVID-19 in their operations, even with regional mask mandates and warnings about the Delta variant increasing in recent weeks. In that vein, ag continues to do all it can to retain as much of the workforce as possible considering how much of a challenge a full roster has become in recent seasons.
“Labor continues to be our number one priority, and parallel to that is employee safety,” Ian reasoned. “We were definitely in a tight labor market earlier in the season. Looking back, there were a couple of contributing factors as to why that could have been, including a longer citrus season, a healthy cherry crop, and the continuance of some state/federal social safety net programs. But, as we have settled into summer that has eased a bit. It is still tight—we never have enough hands—but our members are making it work to get the freshest fruit to market.”
So, while the labor market continues to be tight, CFFA remains vigilant and active wherever it can.
“Our industry’s eyes are fixed on Washington DC and the need to pass immigration reform (Farm Workforce Modernization Act) for all the right reasons,” Ian stated. When I asked about possible solutions, he added, “Near term, we will continue to do what we can as an industry to create a safe and healthy working environment; we will support organizations like the California Farmworker Foundation, which is making meaningful impacts in our communities; and we will continue to grow, pick, pack, and ship the world’s highest quality fresh fruit.”
Likewise, AndNowUKnow will maintain our own vigilance, with hope that more action in this fight for our industry becomes available soon.