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Western Farmers Say Workers' Comp Number One Priority

It's not water supplies, food safety regulations or farm labor availability that have the 3,500 members of the Western Growers Association (WGA) the most concerned. Like many employers across the country, they ranked workers' compensation costs and reform as their number one issue for 2003.

Water supply and water rights ranked number two on the list, which was compiled this month through the Western Growers legislative office in Sacramento. The organization's other top 10 issues for the upcoming year are health insurance costs, minimum wage increases, mandatory arbitration, farm labor availability, energy costs, property rights, food safety regulation and retail consolidation. The results reflected the ongoing economic squeeze faced by California and Arizona farmers.

Tom Nassif, president of Western Growers, said the group plans to work very hard to address the top 10 issues with state legislatures, regulatory agencies and "by any other means available to us."

"Workers' compensation, health insurance and energy costs have skyrocketed in recent years," said Edwin Camp, Western Growers chairman. "We know companies whose premiums have increased by 400 percent in the last three years. Increased workers' comp costs are making it impossible to continue to provide health insurance coverage."

About 85 percent of Western Growers members provide health insurance to their employees.

WGA is an agricultural trade association whose 3,500 members grow, pack and ship 90 percent of the fresh vegetables and nearly 70 percent of the fresh fruit and nuts grown in Arizona and California, about one-half of the nation's fresh produce.

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