The Nitty Gritty

In order to understand what’s going on with me and all my adventures with the union, some background information is neccesary. Soooooo….here’s the scoop:

Working Conditions

There is a lot of carrilla, or pressure to get work done, so the supervisors yell at the workers to pick the grapes at a very fast rate. And if a worker is falling behind or going a bit slow, then they are told to take the rest of the day off. For the farm worker, this means a loss of money because they will have lost the hours that they would have had working the rest of the day. In addition, the farm workers working for Guimarra are making minimum wage with no benefits. Sometimes the workers are forced to work on their knees. During one of the house visits I went on, one of the workers for Guimarra talked about this and how she didn’t like working on her knees in the fields because she has seen what it does to older workers once they age- a lot of them have bad knees, arthritis, or have to walk with a cane.  For these reasons, among many others, the Union is trying to organize the workers.

Union Elections

Now, for a little information on how organizing and unions work. In order for farm workers to be represented by a union, they have to sign union authorization cards. Authorization cards indicate the worker’s desire to be represented by a union.  Once these authorization cards are collected, they will be presented to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board. If the ALRB sees that there is enough support among the workers for a union election to be held, then an election will take place. In the election, 50% + 1 of the total number of workers currently employed by the company must vote in favor of being represented by the union (in this case, the UFW) in order for the union to win the election. If the union wins the election, the farm workers will then be represented by the union and can negotiate contracts with the company establishing better working conditions, improved wages, vacation days, benefits, etc.

Guimarra

Guimarra is the largest table grape grower company in the United States. This is why winning a union election is so important. It will set a standard for the industry and put the UFW on a path in which other union contracts can be won. However, just as the UFW is doing a campaign to organize the workers, Guimarra is also launching a campaign to make sure that the workers don’t organize. Guimarra’s campaign is tri-fold: a campaign of love, threats and lies. The campaign of love consists of the company improving the working conditions in the fields right before the elections are held, and pushing the company’s slogan that at Guimarra “we’re all family.” The campaign of threats consists of the company intimidating workers. Guimarra has also been sending the workers home early from work and blaming it on the union, or saying that “if you get involved with the union, then hours will be cut.” The campaign of lies consists of Guimarra spreading lies about the union, such as if workers vote for the union then half of their check will go toward quotas and union dues (members only pay dues of 3%).

A Little FYI

From what I’ve observed, there is a lot of awareness among consumers about the pesticides and harmful sprays that get put onto the fruits and vegetables that we buy from the grocery store (hence all the halabaloo about “organic foods”). And without a doubt, the movement to end GM foods and harmful pesticides is important. But often what gets left out of the picture are the human stories behind the foods we eat as well. It needs to be recognized that the produce we buy from the grocery store, which gives us nourishment so that we as human beings can live, is the product of another human being’s work.  When we go to the grocery store and buy something so simple such as grapes, strawberries, or mushrooms, the complex story of exploitation and abuse is hidden from us. It is our responsibility as global citizens to recognize this fact, inform ourselves about it and take proactive steps toward changing the situation. In other words- boycott Guimarra/Nature’s Partner produce! You’ve been informed, and now you can utilize your power as a consumer to not buy their grapes, and consequentially demonstrate your support for the migrant farm workers.

Going back to my earlier point I’d like to share a story that I learned about while working here with the UFW. Two workers were spraying pesticides in the fields of Guimarra. However, the backpacks containing the spray that the workers were using were torn in the back and so the spray was leaking onto the backs of the workers. Furthermore, the spray that the company had the workers using was an especially potent pesticide that should only be sprayed on the crops via airplane. The incident was reported, but the company was only fined $2,000. As Armando, the Vice President of the union stated, this amounted to nothing more than “a slap on the wrist” for Guimarra. This is a story that needs to be told. You can go to www.ufw.org  to find out which companies are working under union contract, and which companies are not. Please keep this in mind the next time you go to the grocery store.

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