Prima Wawona announces mass layoffs amid bankruptcy case

Fresno-based stone fruit grower and packager Prima Wawona sends out permanent termination notices to its employees as it requests approval for liquidation after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

Quantities of organic yellow nectarines stored in Prima Wawona packing crates. Photo courtesy of the Prima Wawona Instagram page.
Serena Bettis
Published January 18, 2024  • 
9:00 am

FRESNO – Prima Wawona announced its conditional plans for mass employee layoffs in two months, affecting all of its subsidiaries, after the Central Valley stone fruit producer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October 2023. 

A copy of the notice delivered to employees on Jan. 12 said employees would be permanently terminated on March 12, or up to 14 days after depending on business needs. The company, owned by private equity firm Paine Schwartz Partners, has been looking to sell to a third party or restructure its financial assets through the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process, it first announced on Oct. 13, 2023.

“At this time, we do not know the extent to which our workforce may eventually be affected by these actions,” the termination notice said. “Therefore, out of an abundance of caution, this letter is to notify you that there may be a mass layoff of employees impacting employees across the Company’s work locations.”

Prima Wawona is based in Fresno, with its farming and packaging operations spread throughout south Fresno County and north Tulare County. The company has offices in Reedley, Sanger, Kerman and Cutler. According to court documents, Prima Wawona has more than 18,000 acres of orchards in the Central Valley and produces peaches, plums, nectarines and apricots.

In an October court motion the company filed to allow it to continue operations while undergoing the Chapter 11 process, Prima Wawona said it employs approximately 8,000 workers over the course of a year, depending on its seasonal needs. At the time of filing, there were 600 seasonal employees and 140 full-time employees, the motion said.

Prima Wawona formed in 2019 from a merger between Fresno-based grower Gerawan Farming — which sells its fruit under the “Prima” brand — and Cutler-based Wawona Packing Co. 

The termination notice said nine subsidiaries would be affected, including MVK FarmCo LLC, MVK Intermediate Holdings LLC, Wawona Packing Co. LLC, Wawona FarmCo. LLC, Gerawan Supply Inc., Gerawan Farming LLC, Gerawan Farming Services LLC, GFP LLC and Gerawan Farming Partners LLC. 

As of Jan. 16, the company has not issued any public statement regarding the mass layoff notice. 

Under federal and state “Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification” (WARN) laws, companies must notify employees at least 60 days in advance of any mass layoff consisting of 50 or more employees within a 30-day period or a plant closure affecting any number of employees, according to the California Employment Development Department (EDD). 

Still in the restructuring process of its bankruptcy filing, Prima Wawona said in the termination notice that while it is “continuing to use its best efforts to bring its Chapter 11 bankruptcy cases to a conclusion, based on the best information available at this time, the company believes your employment may be permanently terminated on March 12, 2024.” 

The company has proposed a liquidation plan to its lenders who own a majority of the company’s loans and is in the process of getting approved by the courts, according to the most recent court filings made on Jan. 16. 

The Prima Wawona owners motioned for the entry of interim and final orders that will — among other items — authorize the debtors to obtain financing and use cash collateral and will schedule a final hearing and grant related relief.

Other lenders, including the Royal Bank of Canada and the New York branch of financial services company Rabobank, filed a joint objection to the Prima Wawona debtors’ plan on Jan. 14. 

According to bankruptcy case management firm Stretto, an omnibus hearing on these matters is scheduled for Jan. 17 in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware.

Those impacted by the layoffs can access job seeking resources from their local workforce development board — Employment Connection in Tulare County and Workforce Connection in Fresno County. 

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter