Dave Puglia, executive vice president of Western Growers in Irvine, Calif., has been named new president and CEO, succeeding Tom Nassif, who will retire Feb. 1.
Puglia, 54, has been with Western Growers for 15 years and has “an extraordinary pedigree” in California politics, having held senior roles on statewide political campaigns and having worked in the private and public sectors, said Ron Ratto, Western Growers board chairman and president of Ratto Bros.
Puglia has a “deep understanding” of Western agricultural issues and “an unrivaled capacity” to lead the association, Ratto said.
Puglia was vice president of APCO Worldwide, a global public affairs consulting firm, before joining Western Growers. He also previously served seven years in the California attorney general’s office as press secretary and director of public affairs.
About 40 years ago, Nassif, as a self-described “young hippie lawyer,” helped initiate a successful lawsuit against United Farmworkers of America over its strike against Imperial Valley vegetable growers that turned violent.
From labor attorney, Nassif joined the Reagan administration as deputy chief of protocol at the White House for the state department. He was deputy assistant secretary of state and ambassador to Morocco before returning to the private sector.
He became president and CEO of Western Growers in 2002. Western Growers represents fresh produce growers in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico who provide half of America’s fresh fruits, vegetables, tree nuts and fresh organic produce. The association has 445 employees. Ratto said the association has grown to national prominence in labor, immigration, international trade, food safety, water, technology and innovation.
Nassif and Arturo Rodriguez, former president of UFW, reached agreement to advance an immigration bill in the Senate in 2013. Nassif opposed the Goodlatte labor bill in 2018 because it imposed mandatory E-verify (electronic verification of employment eligibility) without providing legal work status for workers in the country illegally.
“My inspiration has been derived from the hard-working, innovative and ethical family farmers who comprise our membership,” Nassif, 78, said. “I’m proud of the major strides we have taken as an industry… and the future of our association is secure in the hands of Dave Puglia.”