Jim Bogart had his baptism by fire in the Salinas Valley labor strife of the early 1980s, discovering along the way what can be gained when cooler heads prevail — or lost when they don’t.
It’s a lesson he continues to pass on to groups divided over immigration, water quality, pest control or food safety policy.
Bogart, 62, is president and general counsel for the Salinas-based Grower-Shipper Association of Central California. He came here in 1980, initially as staff attorney, from a Los Angeles law firm.
“Labor and employment law was my specialization, and that’s what they needed then,” he recalled. “I was a city boy with no agricultural background. I had worked with unions and collective bargaining, but I’d never seen anything like the strikes, boycotts, elections and difficult, strenuous times regarding United Farm Workers.”
“The fires of passion burned deeply on both the union and management sides,” Bogart said. “That creates difficulties with problem solving or addressing issues constructively. It was an emotional, volatile and acrimonious time.
“People make emotional decisions,” Bogart said. “To me that’s very frustrating. I’ve never approached my job based on politics or ideology.”
Kay Filice, president of Filice Farms and a former Grower-Shipper Association chairman, says Bogart has something to offer everyone.
“Jim loves a challenge, and he thrives on working with a host of players until solutions are reached,” she said. “He has the contacts and institutional knowledge, and he always has a great story to go with it.”
“Jim is a real relationship guy,” said Eric Lauritzen, Monterey County agricultural commissioner. “He’s a resource not just to his members but to elected and appointed officials. He’s a leader among leaders because of all the relationships he’s built.”
Today, Bogart is more than ready to close another lengthy chapter, on immigration reform.
“I’ve been working on immigration reform for 17 years and really don’t have anything to show for it,” he said.
“Ten years into the Immigration Reform and Control Act, we knew this system was broken and needed fixing. Now we’ve reached a critical stage. October is going to be the key month to see if the House does anything on immigration.
“I hope members of Congress are acutely aware of the importance of agriculture.”
Closer to home, it’s proven easier to get things done. Bogart has led or supported a variety of Grower-Shipper Association initiatives, including:
- Ag Knowledge, a 10-month program for labor, business and community leaders that explores industry issues in monthly sessions. It was founded seven years ago by Bogart; Lauritzen; Mann Packing Co. chief executive officer Lorri Koster; and Darlene Din. About 25 people participate in each program, offered through the trade group’s foundation.
- The association, under former chairman Margaret D’Arrigo-Martin, has placed more than 50 salad bars in Monterey County schools.
“I’m a hired gun for the produce industry, but I’ve got longstanding, good relationships with people in government, labor and the environmental community,” Bogart said.
“That’s the legacy I hope to leave, as an effective representative of the ag industry who worked well with and reached out to everybody.”