One Employer’s COVID-19 Playbook
You might recognize Matt Roger’s name from his days as a Global Produce Coordinator at Whole Foods Market. Two years ago he traded that powerful job for the adventure of building a business in agriculture. He wanted to do farm labor contracting the right way. AgSocio’s stated purpose is to create value for farmers, farm workers, and the broader food industry by building a more just, safe, professional, and competitive agricultural labor employment system.
This week, Matt sent out a great newsletter to his stakeholders outlining their initial steps responding to the challenges that COVID-19 is presenting and how they’re working to keep their people healthy.
We thought other employers could learn from AgSocio’s approach as we all try to figure out how best to respond to these unprecedented challenges.
Stakeholder Update (Coronavirus / COVID-19)
To our stakeholders including customers, team members, owners, community members, partner organizations, and friends:
This is a brief update on AgSocio's actions to-date in response to global efforts to contain the novel coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease.
Agriculture is considered an essential business at the state and federal levels and is exempt from the current state-wide "stay at home" order in California.
Our team members depend on us for employment and our customers depend on us to play our role helping them produce food. Our plan is to adjust our operations to maximize safety for our team, do our part to mitigate spread of the virus, and continue serving our customers.
What follows is an overview of some of our initial actions and state of play after a busy week last week. We will keep you posted as the situation evolves.
We welcome any comments, questions, or suggestions as we navigate this new territory along with the rest of you. Please get in touch with Matt or Goretti anytime.
Matt Rogers, General Manager
Goretti V. Calvo, Director of Human Resources, Training, and Safety
Human Resources Policy and Communication
Paid Sick Leave
On Wednesday March 18th, we waived the waiting period for new team members to qualify for California mandated paid sick leave (PSL). This was an action we could take immediately to make it more likely that a team member who felt sick would stay home.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201)
On Wednesday March 18th, President Trump signed into law an emergency aid package which has potential to impact AgSocio in multiple ways. The law takes effect by April 2, 2020.
Most notably for AgSocio, the legislation requires that employers with fewer than 500 employees provide 80 hours of paid sick leave (PSL) to all full time employees with 30 days or more on the job. The bill also expands FMLA coverage. Both the PSL and FMLA provisions include as approved uses caring for a child whose school or daycare has been closed. Since all schools and most daycare in Monterey County are closed, these provisions have potential to impact AgSocio significantly.
We continue to analyze the legislation and will then inform and train all team members accordingly.
Here is a link to a good legal summary of the PSL and FMLA provisions.
Team Member Communication
We made communication a priority last week using in-person tailgate meetings and SMS messages as our primary methods. The images below are messages sent this week checking in on residents at our housing facilities and helping team members understand the "shelter in place" and "stay at home" orders that went into effect this week.
Note: We use Ganaz to manage SMS messaging with team members.
Company Transportation and Equipment
AgSocio provides voluntary group transportation at no charge from specified departure locations in Greenfield, King City, Soledad, and Salinas. This week we implemented the following actions:
Reduced Density - We added a 3rd van to our 24 person weeding crew to allow empty seats between all team members.
Vehicle Sanitizing - We implemented a 2X daily interior sanitizing process to clean all commonly touched surfaces like seats, seat backs, seat belts, driving surfaces, door handles, etc.
Equipment Sanitizing - We have moved to daily clean-out of all portable toilets including replenishing hand washing water and soaps / sanitizer. We are adding a nightly exterior sanitizing of all commonly touched surfaces on shade trailers and portable toilets such as door handles, soap buttons, tabletops, sink faucets, etc.
Hand Washing Protocols
We implemented a 5x daily supervised, mandatory hand washing protocol.
All team members wash hands using soap and water for 20 seconds at the following intervals: before beginning work, after first break, after lunch, after second break, and after work before departing job site.
The foreperson observes the process and documents each interval for each team member on a log sheet.
Staggered Breaks and Lunches - We are having our large crew stagger their break times to avoid large gatherings in vans and at our shade trailer.
In the Field - We are asking team members to maintain 6 feet between them in the field. For our weeding crew and irrigators this is less challenging than it will be for many other types of crews. We will stay on the lookout for best practices that emerge.
Administrative Office - We already use a cloud computing system so our files and software are available to all team members remotely. We are keeping office presence to a minimum and staggering team members who work in shared rooms.
We currently have 11 H-2A team members living in our housing. The bulk of the workforce is scheduled to arrive in April.
Increased Cleaning Frequency - We always provide twice per month professional cleaning service in our employee housing. We have increased frequency to weekly cleaning of all apartments units and our shared house for foreseeable future.
Increased Shopping Time - We provide kitchens in all of our housing so part of our responsibility is taking team members for weekly grocery shopping trips. We have expanded the time allotted to these trips and are making multiple stops as necessary to ensure team members get the supplies they need.
Density - We currently have 4 H-2A team members in our 4 BR / 4BA group house and we have either 2 or 3 people per 1BR / 1BA apartment. In preparation for additional arrivals, we are reviewing our density plan and preparing contingencies for isolation accommodations should that become necessary.
Pictured below: Our apartment-style housing in Soledad, CA.
We are monitoring the situation on the border closely.
Agricultural workers are not impacted by last Friday's closure of the border with Mexico to tourist traffic.
Currently, the threat to on-time arrivals of inbound H-2A team members comes from the US State Department via the US Embassy and Consulates in Mexico who have announced social distancing measures to protect staff and reduce spread of coronavirus in Mexico. As part of this effort they have cancelled all visa processing that requires an in-person interview. This includes all first-time H-2A applicants but some workers who are returning from last year can qualify for an interview waiver. These applicants will be prioritized and processed.
Most of the team members we have recruited for contracts starting in April will not qualify for an interview waiver but we may have an opportunity to adjust. We are in touch with all customers and working on contingency plans to address different scenarios that may emerge in coming weeks.
Here are a couple relevant links on this topic:
A good summary of the situation from Western Growers. (From 3/18/20 but still accurate.)