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June 18, 2014 | 4:14 PM

Across the newsdesk this week from the Napa Valley Grapegrowers:

As Napa Valley’s grape growing season is well underway, Napa Valley Grapegrowers are busting the top nine myths about the farmworkers who are vital to the grapes’ high quality in this world famous wine region. The mission of the NVG Farmworker Foundation is to support and enrich the lives of Napa County vineyard workers and their families by providing educational opportunities, advanced training programs, and promoting a safe and healthy work environment.

Myth: Napa Valley farmworkers are not paid well.

Truth: Entry level Napa Valley farmworkers are regularly hired for a minimum wage of $12/hour, substantially more than the national average – not just for agriculture, but the entire private sector. Experienced Napa Valley farmworkers and those with certificates and additional training can be paid as much as $40/hour. At all levels of employment, Napa vineyard owners offer uniquely progressive benefits packages (see below).

Myth: Most Napa Valley farmworkers are illegal immigrants.

Truth: Napa’s vineyard workforce is well-established and over the past 30 years has become increasingly integrated into the overall community. Many people who started as migrant workers are now in positions of leadership in their companies and several have successfully started their own companies.

Myth: Napa Valley farmworkers are ‘seasonal;’ there is little full-time employment.

Truth: The level of quality and attention that Napa vineyards require in order to exceed consumer expectations has transformed the growing season into one that requires a highly skilled, year-round workforce. While there are points of high demand for workers during the year (May and June and then harvest), most vineyards require labor throughout the year. Long-term employment is common and there are many vineyard employees who have worked 30-35 years for the same grower.

Myth: Napa Valley farmworkers have no access to educational opportunities or career advancement.

Truth: NVG has raised over $760,000 for its Farmworker Foundation – the only one of its kind in the nation – which produces high quality programs that focus on: professional development; quality in the vineyard; health and safety; and personal success tools such as gaining management and leadership skills, financial advice, English language opportunities, and information on community services. In 2014, NVG will provide over 215 hours of education to more than 2,800 farmworkers. The Farmworker Foundation also awards scholarships to vineyard workers and their children to increase their skill set through certification courses and higher education.

Myth: Napa Valley farmworkers have no access to medical insurance or benefits packages.

Truth: The 2011 Napa Valley Wages & Benefits Survey shows that 91% of supervisors and 69% of vineyard workers are offered medical insurance plans (compared to 52% nationwide in the private sector) and 55% are offered 401k plans in Napa. NVG, in conjunction with the University of California, Davis, will conduct the next Wages & Benefits Survey after the 2014 harvest.

Myth: Napa Valley farmworkers have difficulties securing housing.

Truth: Napa is the only county in the United States where growers assess themselves in order to fund farmworker housing centers, where individuals benefit from lodging, meals, laundry, and recreational amenities. In 2014 alone to date, the centers have provided over 51,493 bed stays for Napa vineyard workers.

Myth: Farmworkers are low-skilled workers.

Truth: Napa Valley’s farmworkers are at the frontline of protecting the quality and sustainability of Napa’s vineyards. To do this well, they must be highly trained and perceptive. They are the first to spot pest or disease pressure, recognize key stages of the growing season, identify nutrient or water deficiencies that need to be corrected, and in general they are stewards of the land on a day-to-day basis. Vineyard owners value highly skilled farmworkers and much respect exists in the relationship.

Myth: Only men are farmworkers.

Truth: Women make up as much as 20% of Napa Valley’s vineyard workforce and many have been in the industry for decades. In 2014, women competed for the first time in the NVG’s annual Napa County Pruning Contest and swept the competition – beating the men in overall scores.

Myth: Napa Valley’s harvest takes place in the area’s hottest months, August – September, and farmworkers are expected to work in the heat.

Truth: In Napa Valley, there has been a shift to night harvesting over the past 10 years. These cool night harvests are not only better for the workers, but also for the quality of the grapes, which get delivered to the winery in the early morning, before high temperatures can affect the fruit’s weight and quality. An eight hour work shift can take place from 2 – 10 a.m. On the occasions when workers are out in the vineyard during the day, Napa vineyard owners are committed to compliance with all current OSHA rules and regulations governing the prevention of heat illness and heat stress. NVG sends out daily heat alerts during the summer months, and provides education and awareness about best practices to ensure a healthy workforce.

Bottom line: Farmworkers form the foundation of the Napa Valley’s grape growing industry and are critical to the quality and environmental best practices of these world-class vineyards.

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