(March 25) HALF MOON BAY, Calif. — Grimmway Farms, Bakersfield, is at the forefront of a campaign to reform the state’s workers’ compensation system.
The carrot grower-shipper has taken on the campaign after calculating the financial threat from growing workers’ compensation payments. Grimmway employs 4,000 full-time employees and 2,000 labor contractors, said Jeff Green, general counsel for Grimmway Farms.
Green spoke to members of the Fresno-based California Grape and Tree Fruit League at its annual meeting March 22.
Grimmway put together an initiative for the November ballot that reforms several aspects of the state’s compensation program. Other businesses have joined the effort.
The initiative acts as a safety net to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal, Green said. It will take 589,105 verified signatures by April 16 to place the initiative on the ballot.
Two million mailers were sent out to collect signatures. Green said 10%, or 200,000 signatures, were expected to be returned, but 380,000 signatures had been received by March 19.
Grimmway and other businesses have contributed funds to help obtain signatures.
At the same time Gov. Schwarzenegger is tackling a reform through the legislature.
“The issue is the first legislative priority for the governor,” said Michael Prosio, deputy director of the department of industrial relations legislative unit, based in Sacramento, who joined Green in addressing attendees.
A decision could be made in the capitol before November but isn’t guaranteed, he said.
“It is possible that a compromise is reached and signed into law,” said Prosio. “This wouldn’t stop the initiative process. The legislative process is different.”
Some say the current workers’ compensation system blocks organizations from being competitive.
“Safeway spent $110 million on workers comp in California alone,” said Kevin Herglotz, vice president of government relations and legislative affairs at Safeway Inc., Pleasanton, who spoke at another workshop.
While California workers comp costs average $6.33 per $100 spent on each employee, agriculture takes a hit of $14-15 per $100 spent, Green said.
Injuries were considered to see if that was spurring the rise in cost.
“Injuries are occurring less frequently, but costs were up,” Green said. “Rising medical costs is a factor in the sickness. More money is going to the medical providers than the workers.”
He said a change is going to take the support of the entire business community.
“Every industry in the state is kicking in,” Green said. “But each business in California needs to get on board with this. It is the one thing we can do to help.”