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Having a defined conflict resolution policy and practicing that process together will help resolve many disagreements and disputes that arise in a workplace. However, when disputes arise between an employee and an owner or other figure of authority, power disparities may make it hard to follow the usual resolution process. Outside mediators, such as those available through the Agricultural Mediation Program, can help in these situations. Unionized workplaces often have their own defined process for filing grievances outlined in their contract. Employees may also file complaints with government authorities if it seems like laws have been broken by their employer.

AJP provides our own venue for grievances for businesses that are Food Justice Certified, as described below. This policy assumes a dispute between an employee and employer, but a similar policy applies to disputes between a seller and a Food Justice Certified buyer.

Supplementary Grievance & Conflict Resolution for Food Justice Certified Businesses #

Farms that are Food Justice Certified should have their own on-farm conflict resolution process, but they also have to follow basic guidelines to deal with disputes with owners or managers that can’t be resolved using the farm’s own process. In general, farm workers (or apprentices/interns) and their immediate supervisor should discuss and resolve problems arising in the workplace informally and promptly. However, when such an informal approach is not satisfactory, conflicts shall be taken up in accordance with the policy outlined here.

The term “conflict” shall mean any dispute between the employer and any worker concerning the interpretation or application of the contract with the farm or other personnel policies and procedures.

A worker may seek the assistance of a fellow worker or any other representative he/she chooses in any of the steps of the conflict resolution.

Step 1: A worker shall first discuss any conflict with her/his supervisor or Employer within 20 days of discovery/of the incident. The purpose of this meeting is to seek early resolution of the problem. A fellow worker or other representative and the farmer or farm manager may participate in this meeting. If the conflict involves suspension or termination, the worker may skip Step 1.

Step 2: In some areas of the country, there are Centers for Dispute Settlement which offer conflict resolution and mediation services free of charge to farms or for a moderate fee. A mediation session allows both parties to fully state their understanding of what happened, facilitates good listening to one another, and then helps work out a practical solution to the conflict that is acceptable to both parties. For information about mediation services and Centers for Dispute Settlement, you can contact the Coalition of Agricultural Mediation Programs, funded by the Farm Bill.

Step 3: If no acceptable solution can be reached, the employee or his/her chosen representative may appeal to the AJP board conflict resolution committee for an evaluation and an opinion. The Employer can also voluntarily bring issues to the board’s attention.

Step 4: If either party rejects the opinion of the AJP Board, the Board will refer the parties to an impartial and respected ombudsperson participating in the Agricultural Justice Project for their evaluation and recommendation. Should the recommendation call for the reinstatement of the employee, the farm has the option of offering a severance package that is mutually acceptable.

Steps may be waived by written agreement of both parties, but the parties shall have at least one meeting before a conflict is submitted to the AJP board conflict resolution committee.

The Employer will make relevant parts of any files and records available, in confidentiality, for the purposes of the conflict resolution process.

To file a grievance with the AJP regarding a Food Justice Certified employer, contact:

CATA: Comité de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agrícolas
   / Farmworkers’ Support Committee
Jessica Culley or Jose Manuel Guzman
4 Delsea Dr. South, PO Box 510, Glassboro, NJ 08028
(856) 881-2507

You may request that your call be confidential.

Whistleblower complaints & protections #

In the latest revisions of the standards, AJP has added a Whistleblower standard (Sections 3.0, 4.0, 5.0, 7.0 and 8.0) 3.16g:

A farmer (for section 3.0), an employer (for section 4.0), a grower group (for section 5.0) a non-profit Board (for section 7.0) and a labor contractor (for section 8.0) cannot retaliate against an employee who reports injuries, whistleblower concerns, or activities protected by the Occupational Safety and Health Act.1 Whistleblower protections apply to many types of reports that employees might make such as failure to comply with legal or professional obligations or regulatory requirements; dangers to health and safety; child protection and safety concerns; wage violations; hygiene and food safety issues; animal welfare; sexual harassment, physical abuse; criminal activity, environmental violations and financial mismanagement. This would also include complaints or allegations against a certified entity that would become a noncompliance after the certifier does their due diligence in investigating the validity of the complaint(s). A ‘whistleblower’ is a person who raises a genuine concern in good faith relating to any of the above. Complaints may be filed with the Agricultural Justice Project and complaints relating to an employee’s own personal circumstances, such as the way one has been treated at work, should utilize the appropriate Grievance Policy and Procedure or Conflict Resolution Procedure outlined in their employee handbook.

Note that whistleblowers are also protected from retaliation by federal law and can submit complaints to OSHA, but depending on the type of incident OSHA has differing time periods during which employees can file complaints about retaliation for whistleblowing, some as short as 30 days after the original safety infraction. Employees who file complaints outside of that window are not protected by OSHA. See OSHA’s factsheet on their Whistleblower Protection Program for information on time frames during which complaints can be filed, as well as instructions on filing complaints.

  1. Section 11(c) of the OSH Act prohibits employers from discriminating against employees for exercising their rights to file a complaint with OSHA, speak with an inspector, seek access to employer records of injuries or exposure to hazards, reporting an injury or raising safety and health complaint with the employer. ↩︎