Resources available for laid off Prima Wawona workers

State legislators host virtual town hall for laid off Prima Wawona employees to connect with vital workforce development resources

(Mathia)
(Mathia)
Serena Bettis
Published March 6, 2024  • 
10:00 am

FRESNO & TULARE COUNTY – As Prima Wawona packs up its operations, thousands of full-time and seasonal workers in the Central Valley are looking for new jobs, and local representatives want them to know there is help available. 

District 31 State Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula and District 14 State Sen. Anna Caballero told displaced workers during a virtual town hall on March 4 that — regardless of what district they live in — their office doors are open and ready to connect laid off employees with vital resources.

“The closure of Prima Wawona will affect a large number of our workers in our community. … The state of California has allocated financial resources to help workers who will be impacted by the layoffs,” Arambula said. “It has been an honor to fight for those resources and to ensure that they make it to the Central Valley.”

During the town hall, which is available to watch in English and Spanish via the California Assembly Democrats YouTube page, representatives from Proteus, Inc., the state’s Employment Development Department (EDD) and the University of California, Merced Community and Labor Center shared the ways in which they can help those impacted by the layoffs. 

Prima Wawona, the Fresno-based stone fruit grower and packer, announced mass layoffs in early January. The company, which is not connected to Wawona Frozen Foods based in Clovis, is in the process of liquidating its assets after it first filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October 2023. 

Resources available 

Proteus, Inc. is a member agency of La Cooperativa Campesina de California, a nonprofit that provides agricultural workers with training, education, job placement and wrap-around services. On Jan. 31, La Cooperativa received a $7 million grant from the state to help fund services that support farm workers impacted by mass layoffs at Prima Wawona and other companies. 

Reyna Rodriguez, public relations specialist with Proteus, spoke about the “rapid response” services Proteus provides, which includes assistance with job searches, resume building, interviewing techniques, job referrals and access to computers. 

Rodriguez said Proteus recognizes that many people who were laid off may have had the same job for more than 10 years, and so they don’t have an updated resume on file to find a new job, because it has not been a need for them. The same goes for interview techniques and training in what employers nowadays are looking for. 

Additionally, Proteus has programs that can help laid off workers with living expenses such as housing, utilities, clothing and food, Rodriguez said, because someone’s need to pay their bills doesn’t stop when they’re looking for a new job or going through employment training.

“I just want everyone to know that those are also auxiliary services that we have available for that same reason,” Rodriguez said. “We understand that it’s not easy to go through training when you’re trying to also support a household, so we do have these types of services available to help.”

The EDD is a state department that administers unemployment insurance, federally funded workforce development programs and state disability insurance. According to its website, it also connects job seekers with employers. 

EDD Employment Program Manager Alicia Aguirre walked through the process of filing for state unemployment benefits during the town hall. 

Aguirre said it’s imperative for people who are receiving assistance from the EDD to check and open any mail they receive from the department, because at times correspondence that requires fast response will be sent through the mail. Further, Aguirre encouraged those looking for assistance to go into an EDD office as opposed to calling and waiting on the phone. 

Representatives from the UC Merced Community and Labor Center also briefly spoke about their programs and work. The center is the “largest labor center serving a rural region” in the country, according to its website. 

Alejandro Carrillo, an employee with the center, said many farmworkers impacted by the layoffs may not be eligible for unemployment insurance. 

If someone received a layoff notice from Prima Wawona but is not eligible for unemployment, they should call the center at 559-697-5956. Carrillo said the center is trying to “assess the gap in unmet needs” created by the layoffs. 

Numerous state agencies and nonprofit community partners across Fresno and Tulare counties are available to assist those impacted by the Prima Wawona layoffs at no charge. 

Arambula and Caballero said impacted farmworkers can contact their offices to get connected with resources that fit their needs. Both legislators have in person offices at 2550 Mariposa Mall in Fresno, located across from the Fresno City Hall. Arambula’s office is in Suite 5031, and Caballero’s is in Suite 2016. 

The phone number for Arambula’s office is 559-445-5532, and the phone number for Caballero’s office is 559-264-3070. 

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter