he said the ag industry still needs legislative reform with a fundamental change in the law if agriculture is to meet its labor needs. “We are still hoping for an ag labor bill this year,” he said repeating a mantra that the industry has been chanting for the past two decades. Labor and employment law has long been the forte of Ron Barsamian of Barsamian & Moody, a Fresno, CA-based law firm. On this August day, Barsamian was in the midst of contract negotiations between his winery client and the union representing the workers. He said the negotiations were a welcome respite from the litigation work he is typically involved in representing employers in wage and hour disputes. That work tends to be ongoing as there is seemingly always a plaintiff ’s lawyer somewhere filing an action against an employer for what Barsamian sees as unintended minor violations. While, he said there has been very little union organizing activity during the past year—and nothing that has been successful—there are still many union contracts in effect that are constantly being renewed involving negotiations. He said this winery negotiation was progressing and he hoped to wrap it up soon. Barsamian has also noted an increase in H-2A applications and is hopeful the potential streamlining of the regulations will help solve the ongoing labor shortage in agriculture. He said another issue that has recently surfaced involved the sending of “no match letters” by the Social Security Administration (SSA). These letters from the SSA to employers informs them that they have a number of employees working under social security numbers that do not match SSA records. The letter, which doesn’t actually list the problem employees and numbers, asks the employer to reconcile their records with SSA records. Barsamian said an employer should not assume that

a “no match” means an employee is an undocumented worker. “There are a lot of reasons there is no match, including simple clerical errors,” he said. While some employers have been advised to take no active role in solving this issue, Barsamian gives his clients different advice. “Do what the letter asks you to do,” he said. “Go online to the Social Security website and get a list of which workers are impacted. Do not fire any workers, but let them know there is a mismatch and let them address it. If they do nothing, you might remind them down the road. Take no further action. If there is a problem this will allow you to say that you acted in good faith.” Of course, not all ag law revolves around labor. There are many other far-ranging issues. For example, the Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner firm, which is an international firm, is involved in many different areas. Its agricultural work has recently been focused in areas as diverse as product recall and gene editing. Attorneys Jennifer Jackson, (partner and co-leader of Commercial Disputes Practice Group) and Robert Boone (partner and global leader of Class Action Practice Group) filled in Western Grower & Shipper on the latest legal activity in the product recall arena. Not surprisingly, Boone said the major issues revolve around liability and how companies should protect themselves up and down the supply chain in the event of recall. While liability for harm to consumers will often be determined in court or through negotiations, where the obligations lie along the supply chain for defending lawsuits and paying for damages is typically resolved through contractual obligations. In a typical fruit or vegetable recall, they said there can be many different firms that touch the product on the way from the field to the fork. And there are many different opportunities for contamination along the way. Boone said all participants upstream and downstream should have a clear legal

30   Western Grower & Shipper | www.wga.com   SEPTEMBER | OCTOBER 2019

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