Profile of a Responsible Agricultural Employer

Any time someone deals with enforcement, the emphasis invariably shifts to the number of citations and the types of violations discovered. In TIPP, the Labor Commissioner certainly has found and cited a multitude of serious violations.

Such a result is not, to say the least, an indication that all or even most employers in an industry are flagrant violators, despite the well-documented histories of abuses in the agriculture and garment industries.

In fact, TIPP has encountered many employers in both industries who obey the law, are concerned about their industry's reputation, and go above and beyond meeting minimum labor standards set by law.

Mark Teixeiras is an example of a responsible agriculture employer. He operates Teixeiras Farms, a broccoli producer, in Guadalupe in Santa Barbara County. At the time of a TIPP inspection in May, he employed 21 farm workers.

The inspection found only one violation. Employers are required to provide and maintain any tools or equipment required for the performance of a job. In this case, employees had been purchasing their own cutting knives at an average cost of $6. The first component of TIPP's approach is education so that employers may voluntarily comply with labor standards before they face penalties for non-compliance.

When informed of the requirements, Teixeiras voluntarily agreed to a self-audit to determine the tool expenses incurred by employees, so that they may be reimbursed. Since Teixeiras learned of the requirement involving tools and voluntarily came into compliance, the problem should not exist in the future at Teixeiras Farms.

During TIPP's visit, Teixeiras expressed sincerity about learning all labor standards requirements and following them. He also expressed concern about the perception of his farm and agriculture generally. A good image for agriculture in California means voluntary compliance with labor standards and treating employees fairly, he reasoned.

His concern for his employees' welfare led him to go beyond his legal obligations as an employer. The demands of harvest sometimes require workers to harvest in poor weather. In the rain Teixeiras' employees were covering themselves with plastic trash bags to stay dry. The law does not require agriculture employers to provide any special clothing for rainy weather. Nonetheless, Teixeiras purchased rain jackets for his employees to wear so that they may stay dry if required to work in the rain.

This shows someone who is concerned not only about legal obligations, but also about ensuring a positive self-image for the employees and the agricultural industry in general.