NEWS & ISSUES

COVID-19 Vaccine Phases and Tiers

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has distributed the COVID-19 vaccines in Phases and Tiers.  The first vaccines have been distributed to Phase 1A – Healthcare workers and Long-term care residents.  They now have allocated the COVID-19 vaccines to Phase 1B – which includes Food and Agriculture.  However, due to the limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines, some local health jurisdictions are providing registration and notification services.  Please click https://covid19.ca.gov/get-local-information/  – scroll down to find your county and click link.  Each county is different and you will need to either click on COVID-19 Resources or COVID-19 Vaccine Information on their webpage.

Food and Ag workers may need to show some form of verification that the worker is employed in the food/ag industry at the vaccination site (i.e., company letter designating essential worker, etc. – see attached sample).  Should you need assistance, please contact our office or Elda Brueggemann at (559) 351-1157.

Sample Letter

More than 200 Organizations Push Congress to Address Western Water Infrastructure

A national coalition of over 200 agricultural organizations and urban and rural water districts including the California Cotton Ginners & Growers Association urged President-elect Joe Biden and congressional leadership today to address aging Western water infrastructure in any potential infrastructure or economic recovery package. The coalition includes organizations from 15 states that collectively represent $120 billion in agricultural production, nearly one-third of all agricultural production in the country, and tens of millions of urban and rural water users.  In separate letters to President-elect Biden and congressional leaders, the coalition said existing Western water infrastructure is in desperate need of rehabilitation and improvement. Most of the federal water projects in the West were built more than 50 years ago and were not designed with the present and future population demands and climate conditions in mind. Without immediate attention, the coalition said, the Western water system will quickly prove inadequate to meet the needs of urban and rural users and the environment.  The coalition encouraged the federal government to invest in a diversified water management portfolio that enhances water supply and quality for urban and environmental uses while keeping water flowing to Western farms. Specific recommendations include funding for:

• Water conservation.
• Water recycling, reuse and desalination projects.
• New water storage facilities, both surface and groundwater.
• Watershed management, fish passage and recovery, and habitat restoration.
• Federal financing mechanisms for water projects.
• Loans for local districts operating and maintaining federally owned irrigation projects.
• Water quality improvement for rural communities.

Beyond financial support, the coalition also called on the federal government to ensure the timely construction of water projects by streamlining the regulation and permitting processes.   Association President/CEO Roger A. Isom stated the time is absolutely now!  We have gone too many years without upgrades to our water infrastructure.”

Click here for the letter to President-elect Joe Biden and click here for the letter to congressional leadership.

Cal/OSHA Recordkeeping Requirements

Reminder – the annual posting of the Cal/OSHA 300A Summary, which lists the total number of job-related illnesses and injuries that occurred during 2020, must be posted from February 1st – April 30th, 2021. The summary must list the total number of job-related injuries and illnesses that occurred in 2020and were logged on your Cal/OSHA Form 300, Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses. If no injuries or illnesses occurred in 2020, you must post the summarywith “zeros” on the total line.  The form must be signed and certified by a company executive and should be displayed in a common area where notices to employees are usually posted. In addition, employerswith 20 or more employees, must upload the Summary data by March 2, 2021 to the OSHA ITA website www.osha.gov/injuryreporting/ita/. Please visit our website for Recordkeeping Forms or contact our office.

Governor Proposes $227 Billion Budget – Good News/Bad News for Agriculture

This past week, Governor Gavin Newsom presented his proposed $227 billion budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, of which $164.5 billion is from the General Fund. The Governor’s proposed budget relies heavily on one-time expenditures, avoiding long-term liabilities, since the State’s out year projections predict reduced revenues. The resulting budget provides some good news, as well as some bad news for agriculture.

This proposed budget prioritizes the Governor’s goals of economic recovery, equity, climate resiliency and emergency response. Governor Newsom was clear that every budget allocation was made in an effort to achieve these four goals. On the good news side of the ledger, the Governor included significant money for tractor and harvester replace in Funding Agricultural Replacement Measures for Emission Reductions (FARMER), specifically $170 million one-time Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund ($90 million in 2020-21 and $80 million in 2021-22) for the Air Resources Board.  He also included $30 million for California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) Healthy Soils Program to provide grants for on-farm soil management practices that sequester carbon. The proposed budget also includes $60 million for Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) Grants, and $40 million to CDFA for the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) Grants that help farmers reduce irrigation water use and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture pumping.

Unfortunately, the proposed budget also included some significant bad news, and that is the Administration proposed a four-year phased in mil assessment increase for pesticides. The mil will be tiered based on EPA hazard designations, with the pesticides with highest toxicity being assessed the highest. At the end of the four years, those products will be paying approximately 45 mils. There will also be new money for DPR air monitoring and enforcement. The proposed budget will now go to the legislature for review and debate so stay tuned as to what actually gets approved later this year.

COVID-19 Cases

As we begin the new year, the number of COVID-19 cases are rising – ACT NOW!  California has confirmed cases of the new and more infectious strain of COVID-19, it is important to continue to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect yourself, your family, your friends and your co-workers.  Continue to wash your hands often with soap and water, monitor your health daily – be alert to symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms), and clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.  For additional COVID-19 information and resources, please visit our website www.agprocessors.org.

New Year Means Updates to Minimum Wage/Ag Overtime

The start of a new year means that minimum wage and agricultural overtime pay scales are being updated.  The current changes to minimum wage are as follows; for employers with 25 employees or less the minimum wage is now $13.00/hour, employers with 26 or more employees will see an increase in minimum wage to $14.00/hour. Minimum wage increases are set to continue for the next two years, ultimately stopping at the beginning of 2023 at $15.00/hour.

Shifting to pay requirements for agricultural overtime applicability, Ag Overtime was initiated through Senate Bill 1066.  Starting this year, overtime pay is triggered after 8.5 hours per day, or 45 hours per week, for employers with 26 or more employees.  It should be noted that employers with 25 employees or less do not trigger the agricultural overtime requirements until the start of 2022.  If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to the Association.

Executive Order to “Limited Stay at Home” Sample Letter

Click Here For Sample Letter

By now you have all heard of the Governor’s Executive Order to “Limited Stay at Home”.  As of November 21, 2020, it is required that all non-essential work and activities stop between 10 pm and 5 am in counties in Widespread (purple) tier.

We want to make you aware that agriculture and companies that support agriculture are exempt.  The Governor’s Order clearly references new guidance just released by the Department of Homeland Security that classifies agriculture and the business that support agriculture as “essential critical infrastructure” that must be maintained.  Therefore, your operations will continue to be allowed to operate.  That guidance lists the following as essential:

FOOD AND AGRICULTURE

• Workers supporting groceries, pharmacies and other retail that sells food and beverage products
• Restaurant carry-out and quick serve food operations – Carry-out and delivery food employees
• Food manufacturer employees and their supplier employees—to include those employed in food processing (packers, meat processing, cheese plants, milk plants, produce, etc.) facilities; livestock, poultry, seafood slaughter facilities; pet and animal feed processing facilities; human food facilities producing by-products for animal food; beverage production facilities; and the production of food packaging
• Farm workers to include those employed in animal food, feed, and ingredient production, packaging, and distribution; manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of veterinary drugs; truck delivery and transport; farm and fishery labor needed to produce our food supply domestically
• Farm workers and support service workers to include those who field crops; commodity inspection; fuel ethanol facilities; storage facilities; and other agricultural inputs
• Employees and firms supporting food, feed, and beverage distribution, including warehouse workers, vendor-managed inventory controllers and blockchain managers
• Workers supporting the sanitation of all food manufacturing processes and operations from wholesale to retail
• Company cafeterias – in-plant cafeterias used to feed employees
• Workers in food testing labs in private industries and in institutions of higher education
• Workers essential for assistance programs and government payments
• Employees of companies engaged in the production of chemicals, medicines, vaccines, and other substances used by the food and agriculture industry, including pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, minerals, enrichments, and other agricultural production aids
• Animal agriculture workers to include those employed in veterinary health; manufacturing and distribution of animal medical materials, animal vaccines, animal drugs, feed ingredients, feed, and bedding, etc.; transportation of live animals, animal medical materials; transportation of deceased animals for disposal; raising of animals for food; animal production operations; slaughter and packing plants and associated regulatory and government workforce
• Workers who support the manufacture and distribution of forest products, including, but not limited to timber, paper, and other wood products
• Employees engaged in the manufacture and maintenance of equipment and other infrastructure necessary to agricultural production and distribution

Furthermore, we are aware of instances where workers have been stopped by law enforcement in counties where “shelter in place” ordinances have been adopted.  For those situations we have attached a sample letter you can provide each of your employees with in case that happens.

U.S. EPA Settles Lawsuits with Trucking Companies Over Violations

Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) settled with three interstate trucking companies after those companies violated the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) Truck and Bus Regulation while operating in California.  The three trucking companies will pay over $400,000 in penalties, and replace or retrofit existing equipment to meet Truck and Bus Regulation standards.  One of the trucking companies was cited for using non-compliant Transportation Refrigeration Unit (TRU’s) equipment, whereas another company was cited for not having particulate matter filters installed on various equipment.  The remaining trucking company was cited for not verifying that the carriers it had hired were Truck and Bus compliant.  In the end, the last company not in compliance with the Truck and Bus rule will have to pay over $175,000 in civil penalties.  This is a reminder that all trucking companies, whether owned and operated by your business or sub-contracted out, must meet Truck and Bus Regulation requirements.  Specifically, a company that owns and operates heavy duty diesel trucks must have the current year’s TRUCRS compliance certificate.