Human labor is extremely important in agricultural production. Human effort and skill in food production determines the quality and safety of food products, the positive or negative environmental impact of the agricultural operation, and ultimately the sustainability of an agricultural business. People who work on farms and ranches profoundly affect the sustainability of the rural communities where agricultural operations are based.

Historically, migrant and part time agricultural workers have been among the least enfranchised in American society. Many of these farmworkers are recent immigrants, seasonal workers traveling the countryside, and/or temporarily part of the businesses and communities in which they work. For many years, tensions have existed between the owners of agricultural business and social activists advocating improved working conditions and political representation for agricultural workers.

Many social activists and agricultural business leaders now recognize the need to work together to ensure the survival of the industry. This pragmatic view has only been reached after years of conflict and in the face of extremely challenging market and industry conditions. While the two sides often approach these challenges from different perspectives, there is now an opportunity to build a common understanding of how best to work toward widespread, progressive farm labor management practices.

Vision for the future

In our vision, farmers and ranchers consistently implement professional, progressive human resource management practices to ensure a safe and fair workplace. In an environment where workers enjoy a range of protections and benefits, they are inclined to offer their ideas, expertise and concerns about the agricultural operation and play a key role in building a culture of efficiency, productivity and overall success. Progressive labor management strategies help agricultural employers create better jobs (full-time, part-time/seasonal and migrant) and result in true leadership when it comes to social and environmental responsibility.

Broad strategies to achieve this vision

  • Good Labor Relations: Managers and workers mutually pledge to focus on safety, productivity and fairness. Farms and ranches have a written grievance policy stating procedures to follow for employees and employers. Furthermore, employers acknowledge employees’ right to associate or affiliate with organizations with the goals of improving workplace safety, fairness and productivity. Employers communicate clear policies and procedures for all workers and managers.
  • Best Management Practices for Human Resources: Employers communicate expectations effectively, take cultural sensitivity classes (where applicable), train employees, and manage performance problems with a stated procedure.
  • Employment Standards: Employers follow the law regarding employment of minors and discrimination when hiring new employees and managing existing employees. Non employees (adults and children alike) are not allowed in the workplace, for their own safety and welfare. Children who live on the farm are given safety training and supervised when participating in work activities.
  • Compensation and Benefits: Employers reward seniority and excellent performance, and manage piece rate work to ensure wage commitments are met. Benefits such as profit sharing, health and life insurance, are offered when practical and affordable.
  • Health and Safety: Employers and employees unite around a safe workplace. Goals are set for workplace safety, and rewards established. Employers fully implement all aspects of health and safety laws and regulations and continually look for ways to improve workplace safety.

List of evaluation criteria and their goals

Minors, children and family members in the workplace: High scores are awarded employers who prevent all non-employees from entering the workplace. Additionally, employers who offer minors of legal working age and family members appropriate training and supervision are scored accordingly.

Grievance procedures and policies: High scores are awarded to employers with clear grievance policies that encourage employees to come forward without fear of retaliation or termination.

Recognizing and supporting employee input for workplace improvement: High scores are awarded to those employers with policies that encourage and support employees who offer ways to improve the workplace.

Farm worker support services: Higher scores are awarded to those employers whose policy it is to consider the recommendations of third parties representing employee interests. Under such policies, employers do not retaliate against employees interested in or affiliated with third party organizations.

Discipline process: High scores are awarded to employers that formalize the process of dealing with employee performance problems, in order to treat each case with consistency and equity.

Nondiscrimination policy: High scores are awarded to farms/ranches that train employers/managers and employees in non-discrimination practices.

Hiring practices and communicating expectations and policies: Higher scores are awarded to employers that clearly state performance expectations and important policies for a safe and fair workplace in a written document for employees. This document should be in English and applicable language of the employee.

Workforce development and new skills training: Higher scores are awarded to employers that provide employees with training and opportunities for advancement.

Compensation practices: High scores are awarded to employers who give bonuses and who use other progressive compensation practices to reward workplace excellence.

Employee benefits: High scores are awarded to employers who offer employees benefits such as health insurance (when possible and affordable).

Worker housing and family support services: High scores are awarded to employers who provide housing to employees that exceeds minimum standards called for by law, and/or help workers access family support services.

Pesticide handler/applicator safety: High scores are awarded to employers who provide exceptional safety equipment and training for employees.

Hazardous Materials Emergency Management: Higher scores are awarded to employers who are prepared for spills or other accidents involving pesticides, fuels, and other chemicals, by having an action plan and clean-up materials available.

Sanitation and general safety: High scores are awarded to employers who provide special services beyond drinking water and latrines, such as washing facilities and showers.