Ag at large: Health plan covers agricultural workers

The Irvine-based company, United Agriculture has offered health care plans to farm works since 1980. FILE PHOTO

Farm workers in California and Arizona know what few others seem to know: where to find comprehensive health coverage.  The plan expands this month with the addition of two of its wellness centers in the Napa Valley and Colusa, bringing the total to 13.

Spawned by Western Growers, the venerable association that has served the needs of the state’s vegetable and produce growers for 90 years, United Agriculture has offered its health care plans to farm workers since 1980.  At last count it had provided coverage to more than two and a half million workers in agriculture and their families.

Operating as a trade association with slightly more than 1,000 members, 100 employees, and staffed wellness centers scattered in the areas where farm workers are in the highest concentration, it is structured to meet the needs for them and their families to receive top notch health care at affordable rates.

Its founding 37 years ago, a decade after an angry and noisy labor union began its efforts to organize farm workers in California, implies that the union’s approach to medical coverage left even its members short-changed and non-members untouched.

Headquartered in the upscale industrial neighborhood of Orange County’s Irvine, United Ag. maintains constant worker contact through its 13 wellness centers in areas of high farm worker concentrations such as the Salinas Valley, Santa Maria, Visalia, Oxnard and Yuma.  Drop-ins are invited and accommodated at each.

As it has grown and matured, United Ag. has included support that fosters educational opportunities for its constituency, amounting recently to $1.4 million.  More than 890 youngsters of members and farm worker families have received scholarships and other support for their educational advancements.

A major structural and philosophical advantage maintained by United Ag is its free enterprise, non-governmental structure.  Any regulations or restrictions on its day-to-day operations are self-imposed and self-regulated. Policy is determined by members or those who represent them on the organization’s governing body, and member-sensitive decisions can be made quickly.

Benefits for farm workers on a separate level are resulting in the expansion of another organization that is beginning its third year of operation in Delano.  It has just announced that it has changed its name to California Farmworkers Association, dropping the designation of Central as formerly applied.

While it encourages workers to eat well, watch their weight and seek medical help early when needed, its purpose broadens to include educational opportunities for adults and children and civic participation and service to others.  Some of its constituents involved in an English language class at Bakersfield College recently admitted that they had never seen the inside of a classroom before.

Both United Ag. and California Farmworkers Assn. are testimony to the concern farmers have for the people they employ.  Both organizations have grown out of that practical and realistic concern.

In contrast, the state’s government agency created 45 years ago to oversee elections held for farm workers to choose or reject union membership has attracted extreme criticism, been widely labeled as favoring farm workers as opposed to farmers and recently has been stagnated by personnel absences.  A favorite of former Governor Jerry Brown, the agency may be restored by Governor Newsom if he appoints personnel to manage it.

Farm workers are a strategic component of the California population, probably more so than in any other state.  They are needed as employees of farmers and farming companies. It is only logical and humane that farmers and their organizations support them beyond their daily work areas.  The job may be beyond massive government.  As often said in the rural community: “If you want it done, find a farmer.”