July 3, 2020
Ventura County Board of Supervisors
County of Ventura
800 S. Victoria Ave.
Ventura, CA 93009
Regarding: The Action Network, Protect the Health of Farmworkers Petition
Dear Ventura County Board of Supervisors,
As a family-owned farming company, we have always valued the significant contributions made by farmworkers, as they are an integral part of our local community, critical participants in supporting the nation’s food supply, and mindful stewards of the land. The heart of our organization is our people and we continue to be committed to their health and wellbeing.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we sought opportunities to collaborate with industry representatives, community organizations and County agencies. That collaboration has been ongoing, generating awareness of the virus, communicating and adopting preventative measures, and ensuring farm workers stay safe while fulfilling a critical role as essential workers.
Villa Las Brisas opened in the spring of 2020, after undergoing a complete renovation in order to provide the highest quality living environment for seasonal guest workers. We purchased and renovated the former Campo Vanessa farm worker housing facility the year prior, choosing to invest in elevating the standard of agricultural housing within our community which aligned with our company values. In addition, the facility meets the high standards for guest worker housing issued by the California Department of Housing and Community Development. In late April, we proactively engaged with Ventura County Public Health to review our Villa Las Brisas safety and hygiene protocols for COVID-19. After the property walkthrough, County health officials were complimentary and did not amend any of our protocols.
The safety of farmworkers continues to be our highest priority, and although we have continued to work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as an essential business, we instituted early preventative measures and protocols to help reduce the risk of spread throughout our farming operations and our company operated facilities.
The detection of an outbreak amongst guest workers staying at Villa Las Brisas was a result of our proactive, transparent and collaborative lines of communication with Ventura County Public Health. Once our Villa Las Brisas housing manager was notified that guest workers were experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, he immediately contacted the County and followed their explicit directions.
MICOP and CAUSE have seized this opportunity to disparage us, calling out injustices and inaction without full comprehension of the hard work and collaboration that has been taking place to ensure guest worker health and safety. They have also made inaccurate and misleading statements that are not representative of the situation, our commitment or actions. This is disappointing as we have been actively working and speaking with them to bring real and meaningful solutions to support the wellbeing of farmworkers in partnership with the County and the Farmworker Resource Program.
If we continue to allow these voices to script the narrative for our broader community, it will not only impede the progress we have made but will discourage other agricultural growers from stepping forward in a transparent manner when they need support. A pandemic should be a time of unity, of collaboration and teamwork, which we remain committed to demonstrating and supporting.
For now, we wanted to help clarify any misconceptions and confusion surrounding the health and wellbeing of the farm workers at Villa Las Brisas. Thus far, we have been informed by Ventura County Public Health that all individuals impacted by COVID-19 are in stable condition, experiencing mild symptoms and will continue to receive County medical care. In addition, Public Health has been directing the COVID-19 protocols on site at Villa Las Brisas, including isolation orders, rooming requirements and quarantine practices.
The individuals currently staying at Villa Las Brisas are not employees of Reiter and have not worked within our Reiter network of ranches. In March, we proactively cancelled our own H2A guest worker program, anticipating an increase in demand for essential agricultural jobs from industries displaced by the pandemic. This allowed us to make the housing available to other agricultural employers.
The guest workers at the Villas are employed by Elkhorn Packing Co., Venegas Farming, and Royal Oak Ag Services, which are three independent farm labor contractors (FLCs). They are all part of the H2A guest worker program which allows U.S. employers (including FLCs), who meet specific regulatory requirements, to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs.
As the employer, the farm labor contractors provide wages, benefits, supervision and foster the direct relationship with the guest worker as their employer, and is also responsible for:
- Compliance with paid sick leave and extended COVID-19 sick leave.
- Providing three meals a day and housing.
- Providing all tools, supplies and personal protective equipment at no charge.
- Safety procedures.
- Transportation to and from their place of employment while in the U.S.
The FLC’s mentioned above, all leased housing space from Villa Las Brisas as part of their requirements under the H2A program. We have been operating at a 46% approved occupancy since our housing was leased by the FLC’s, which allowed for more space and proper social distancing.
Since opening, we established the following protocols which we operate and abide by:
- Clean and disinfect bathrooms and showers twice daily.
- Clean and disinfect all high touch areas daily.
- A cleaning and disinfecting kit with wipes, cleaning liquids and paper towels is provided to each dormitory.
- Established safety protocols relating to the COVID-19 pandemic which include designated rooms for quarantine as required by official County quarantine orders.
- Established social distancing protocols for all common areas.
- Staggered meal hours to encourage social distancing.
We have attached a copy of our COVID-19 Protocols and Procedures to this letter.
While we have done many things proactively to prepare for the pandemic, there are learnings we plan to adopt as part of our new “norm”. The learnings and awareness from our own FreSalud Clinics have been a catalyst for our best practices and protocols throughout our organization, including protocols as a landlord, and a conduit to the County’s Health Department. This is something we plan to continue going forward.
In addition, Villa Las Brisas will require every employer/FLC to submit a written copy of their protocols on housing, transportation, COVID-19 safety procedures and on-farm activities as part of the lease contract. Although each individual employer handles their transportation and housing arrangements, moving forward, we will request those protocols upfront. If the employer does not have an established set of protocols, Villa Las Brisas will require they adopt our guidelines to their operations in order to secure housing with us.
With regards to our Reiter farming operations, similar to Villa Las Brisas, we are fully compliant with the health, safety, and hygiene written protocols which are attached to this letter. Within Reiter Affiliated operations, we have communicated and continually remind our employees about their available sick pay and extended leave benefits in connection with COVID-19.
We acknowledge and recognize the news of an outbreak amongst the farm worker community is concerning, but we, along with Elkhorn Packing, Venegas Farming, Royal Oak Ag Services, Ventura County Public Health and the Mexican Consulate in Oxnard, are all in regular communication together, and with the guest workers, in order to ensure their continued health and wellbeing. With so much interest expressed by the local community to support the farmworkers impacted by COVID-19 at Villa Las Brisas, we reached out to Ventura County Community Foundation who have agreed to collect community donations on their behalf.
We greatly appreciate your interest in upholding an open, transparent and collaborative line of communication. We would like to extend an opportunity to Ventura County Public Health and the County of Ventura, to utilize Villa Las Brisas as a temporary housing facility for members of the local community who require isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This can be made available once our current contracts with the FLC’s expire in the coming week. We do not foresee future contracts requiring space at our housing until the start of next year.
We remain fully committed to the County, to our community partners and most especially to the agricultural farm workers who are the heart and soul of our industry.
Hector Lujan, CEO