A motivational speech and details about updated federal Worker Protection Standards are among topics slated for Spanish sessions at the Washington State Tree Fruit Association’s Annual Meeting.

The Spanish sessions are held on one day of the annual three-day conference and cover a lot of safety trainings, pesticide regulations and other details needed by farm workers and supervisors, many of whom speak Spanish as their first language. This year, organizers figured they should throw in a little encouragement, too.

“We’re just letting people know there is opportunity out there,” said Eladio Gonzales, an orchard manager for G.S. Long and the manager of the Spanish sessions.

In the opening speech of the Spanish sessions, Gonzales, a former seasonal orchard laborer, plans to urge Spanish-speaking employees in the tree fruit industry to keep their eyes open for new openings beyond general labor, because if he can move up the ladder, so can they, he said.

The same is true with many of the other speakers in the Spanish sessions; most of them came from the field workers ranks.

In spite of President Donald Trump’s actions and rhetoric about immigration, few, if any of the speakers will discuss the hot-button topic, Gonzales said. “You don’t know what kind of can of worms we could get into.”

Updates to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Worker Protection Standards will be another major topic of the Spanish sessions, addressed by Jaime Ramon, a program specialist for the Washington state Department of Agriculture.

The EPA changes were finalized in 2015. Many took effect in early 2017, though some are still on the way for January 2018.

Among the highlighted changes:

—The sheer volume of training material has increased. All workers must receive 23 points of training compared to the previous 11; all pesticide handlers get 36 points instead of 13.
—Training must now happen every year instead of every five years.
—Employers now must keep all training records.
—Establishes a national minimum age of 18 years to handle any restricted use pesticide.
—Mandates a do-not-entry zone up to 100 feet from application equipment.

Ramon realizes growers may not like them at first, but “once they are in compliance, it’s easy to keep going,” he said.
Other presentation topics will include ATV safety, irrigation, pesticide drift and H-2A guest workers. •

– by Ross Courtney