President's message: One resolution we all need to keep

Issue Date: February 8, 2017
Paul Wenger, President, California Farm Bureau Federation

Now that we're into February, how are you doing on your New Year's resolutions?

We all aspire to exercise more, spend less, slow down and smell the roses, eat better or spend more time with those we love. Often, we do that for a while—then reality kicks in and we fall back to our more characteristic behavioral patterns, because next year we will once again resolve to get it done.

As I serve my final year as president of the California Farm Bureau, I reflect on how the challenges facing agriculture have changed, along with the state's political landscape. I have made a personal financial commitment, with the full support of my wife and family, that if we want to change the political landscape for California agriculture, we must resolve to make the financial commitments to get the results we want.

Bills passed by the California Legislature in 2016 showed the importance of making that commitment. CFBF, county Farm Bureaus and allied commodity and trade associations fought valiantly to protect our members and all of agriculture from regulatory overreach and unreasonable proposals that continue to challenge our ability to compete with farmers and ranchers in other states and countries. In some cases we succeeded, in others we did not.

One of the issues that really hit home for all of us was the debate over agricultural overtime rules, where California is the only state to pay farm and ranch employees on a daily overtime schedule. But that wasn't good enough for people who failed to appreciate the challenges of dealing with inclement weather, perishable crops and the many other unpredictable occurrences that make up a normal day on a farm or ranch, but don't fit nicely in an eight-hour day or five-day week.

As we made our case against the bill through the halls of the Capitol, one thing stood out to me: This issue wasn't about the uniqueness of agriculture or the fact that we already have the highest pay standards for farm employees; it was about politics. One of the groups lobbying against us and for the bill was the California Teachers Association.

In a letter to legislators, a CTA lobbyist wrote that the existing overtime rules for agricultural employees had "left agricultural workers in the shadows for decades," and that agricultural workers "must endure extreme working conditions for very low pay."

The letter went on to say that California "has been supportive of the agricultural industry through public subsidies and various investments. As a result, the agricultural industry has been extremely profitable and productive. CTA believes the exploitation of workers is inhumane and unjust; this exploitation takes the form of poor working conditions, sub-par wages, extraordinarily long hours and unsafe working places."

This letter bothered me for any number of reasons. Beyond the baseless charges, it flies in the face of the support rural California has provided for public schools. In my own case, I have served on a local school board, have friends and family who work as teachers and have supported local school bonds to improve conditions in our schools.

As I shared this letter with teachers, many of whom also farm or ranch, they were incensed by its tone and content. Teachers are assessed by the CTA for political action dollars to support this type of advocacy. Teachers do have the option to have the money deducted from their wages for union political action directed to other deserving charitable or nonprofit organizations. Wouldn't it be great if teachers who disagree with the irresponsible rhetoric would choose to have the political action portion of their dues go to a more productive cause?

So how does this all relate to a New Year's resolutuion?

The first step in any positive solution is not to be a part of the problem. As I encourage Farm Bureau members and others to consider supporting our political action efforts, I often hear that they just can't afford it. Yet many may be supporting the very institutions that lobby against agriculture through mandatory assessments, such as the CTA. It would be great if every teacher who disagrees with the tactics of organizations such as the CTA would divert their political action support. This would send a message that the CTA should focus on educating our youth—something we could all support.

After last year's legislative outcomes, I heard several folks lament that agriculture's political action isn't working. Nothing could be further from reality. Interestingly, many who say we need to do something different have never actually contributed their own time or resources toward political advocacy. Just as on our farms and ranches, some years are better than others. But one thing is for certain: If we don't work hard and invest adequate time and resources, the outcome will always be less than it could be. Success doesn't just happen. It is earned through hard work and wise investment of time and capital.

During this past election cycle, the Fund to Protect the Family Farm (FARM PAC®) succeeded in helping elect problem-solving candidates who appreciate the challenges of running a business in California. But we need to do more to increase their numbers in the Legislature. In 2017, everyone in agriculture should commit themselves to being a part of our united political advocacy efforts and resolve to be actively engaged in changing the status quo.

To do nothing but complain is to accept what we believe to be inevitable. It is not. First, we don't support those organizations or entities that work against us, so we aren't a part of the problem. At the same time, we fight for what is right by investing our time and our resources.

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.