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Walk for Farmworker Justice: NORPAC rejects Walk Coalition's invitation

On Saturday, 23 June, the Walk for Farmworkers Justice will march to the NORPAC plant in Stayton. Since the stated purpose of the Walk is to bring NORPAC "to the table to talk with farmworkers and their union, PCUN", this event is arguably the most important of the week. NORPAC has turned down an invitation from the Walk Coalition for an official meeting that day.
On 8 June, Dan Bryant, chair of the Walk Coalition, sent a letter to Rick Jacobson, President of NORPAC. In this letter, Bryant implored Jacobson to meet with members of the Walk Coalition in order to open a dialogue that could "lead to free and fair labor elections in the fields of NORPAC groers so that the workers themselves can decide whether or not they wish to be represented by PCUN or any other union (or none)." Bryant's overall tone in the letter was one of concilliation. He positioned the Walk Coalition as a body that could help bring the two sides together, even going so far as to stress that the Coalition "takes no position on the NORPAC boycott". This latter stance shows the meaningfulness of PCUN's partnership in organizing the walk; PCUN's boycott of NORPAC has been a key tactic for over eight years.

Jacobson, however, was apparently unimpressed by the level of commitment of all involved. A 19 June response to Bryant declined the invitation to a dialogue with the Walk Coalition and "the proponents of this misdirected secondary boycott". Jacobson denied that NORPAC has or should have "a voice in determining the employment relationship between farm workers [sic] and their employers", saying that NORPAC "does not own a single farm or employ a single farm worker [sic]". Jacobson seems to want folks to believe that NORPAC is merely a paper entity with no true power of its own.

NORPAC does not present itself as so powerless in its own literature, however. On their website, the cooperative claims to value "cooperation, respect for people, resources and the environment", and to use its leverage to "manage resources wisely", "adopt and enforce standards that promote high quality, safe products and services", encourage the "legal, ethical, respectful and honest conduct of its employees", and finally, to support the "practice of community involvement" in recognition of "its civic responsibility". If such a broad array of attitudes and actions does not include simply meeting with members of the community--especially with a group as diverse as the Walk Coalition--one could plausibly wonder if it includes anything at all.

Jacobson does make other suggestions in his letter. In what is clearly a pointed remark to the Oregon Ecumenical Council, he mentions that the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church "has revisited" its stance on the NORPAC boycott, and he implies that members of the Walk Coalition would be best served by following that lead, or by joining with the Methodists at their 2002 conference.

Jacobson also places the issues of farmworker working and living conditions outside the context of morality or values by stating that they are "fundamentally matters of law" and that "a legislative review of farm labor issues is the most appropriate mechanism" for addressing them. This is at odds with the viewpoint of many participants in the week-long Walk, who have consistently posited the plight of the farmworkers as also falling within the context of Christian ideals of justice. "When you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me" (Matthew 25:40). Jacobson's own religious beliefs or habits, and how he reconciles them with the treatment of farmworkers by NORPAC members, were unknown as of press time.

Jacobson closes his 19 June correspondence with a request to the Walk Coalition to "respect the rights of our employees and avoid restricting access to their job and their ability to perform their duties". He further asks that the Coalition hold itself accountable for the behavior of Walk participants and their compliance with the law, given what he refers to as "the heightened aggressiveness of some of the protestors". Jacobson's "Cc:" to "Stayton City Officials" seems intended as a further warning. Considering the serious commitment to non-violence under which Walk participants have been operating, Jacobson's language sounds a bit shrill.

Bryant responded to Jacobson's letter with one more invitation to an official dialogue on Saturday, and requested an answer by 5:00 on Thursday, 21 June. As of Friday afternoon, this invitation had gone unanswered. The next moves from either side will take place at NORPAC on Saturday.

Jobs With Justice is arranging a carpool to the rally from Portland. Interested parties should meet at the Oregon Building, 123 NE Third (Third at Couch), at 10:30 a.m., Saturday morning.

parody of power 22.Jun.2001 19:47

Z. Kerns

The ironic thing about the lack of power Norpac seems to display over their growers is the fact it is only one
sided. They can put regulations on quality and growing techniques but this power can not be extended to working conditions or minimum wages. The coop is made of growers who police themselves through the coopertive and insure quality standards. These growers refuse to recognize the power of their farmworkers and the assets they bring to the industry. Without this recognition (coupled by an equal lack of recognition presently by the farmworkers.) no advance on either side can be made easily. There is a need for both sides to further realize their plight and act through cooperation to find a solution to an inherently complex situation. The farmworkers through PCUN seem to be gaining momentum and with help from the public will hopefully succeed at iniating dialogue to bring about this cooperation. Through the Walk marchers are hoping to further raise the awareness and display how close this issue is literally, to our homes.