A little over a hundred people gathered for the Walk for Farmworker Justice on Saturday, July 13. Folks from churches, labor organizations and Pi?eros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN - Oregon's farmworker union) met at Legion Park in Woodburn. |
Last year, the Walk was a one-week event whose purpose was to bring the NORPAC Farmers Cooperative to the bargaining table with PCUN. At the time, NORPAC was hostile to the idea, but in the eight months of organizing and pressure that followed, they relented, and are now formally speaking with PCUN. The union's concern are bread and butter issues like working conditions, pay, housing. The themes of this year's walk were the right to collective bargaining (which the state legislature has assaulted) and amnesty for migrant labor. Amnesty refers to being able to cross the border to work without fear of recrimination. "No human being is illegal," read one sign about this issue.
The day opened with music, speeches, and information about the day's events:
Ramon Ramirez, President of PCUN
The first stop
After the opening, everyone loaded into buses and drove out into the countryside.
The first farm we went to was a berry-farm, and there were at least a dozen workers there that we could see between the long prickly rows. The owner of the farm, Mr. Oberson, has declined to participate in the NORPAC negotiations with PCUN. PCUN organizers spoke to three of the workers about their day so far. As of 11:30 a.m., they had picked twenty flats worth of berries. Each full flat weighs about thirty pounds. The workers are paid 15 cents a pound, meaning that each of them had made only $30 so far that day, which is less than five and a half dollars per hour. While this wage is not abysmally low, they are unable to collectively bargain for more, or for better working conditions, and can be fired for broaching the topic to their boss.
The Walk folks lined up alongside the road a hundred strong and chanted in Spanish.
PCUN organizers addressed the workers through bullhorns.
Participants held signs with huge letters that spelled JUSTICIA and AMNESTIA.
Walk participants from different organizations stood up in the back of a pick-up on the side of the road and introduced themselves through a bullhorn. If they spoke only English, their words and names were translated into Spanish. Among those represented there were: the Friends Meeting of Eugene, Portland Jobs With Justice, the Oregon Farm Worker Ministry, the Shoreline Unitarian Universalist Church, the Salem Friends Meeting, the First Methodist Church of Salem, United Students Against Sweatshops/Worker Rights Consortium, the International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers - Woodworkers Local 246, Temple Beth Israel in Portland, and the Wobblies.
A white man drove by in a pick-up truck. He stopped for a moment and berated the walkers, telling them they should get out of there before they "drive Smuckers to Mexico". Interestingly, Smuckers was to become a part of our day later...
The second stop
Next we went to Kramer Farms, where farmworkers struck for six days in 1996.
We stopped at a field where workers were harvesting summer squash. Workers in the rows were filling up boxes with squash and emptying the boxes into large bins at the ends of the rows. From there, a white boy driving a fork-lift would take the bins away.
The bins are then delivered to NORPAC where they are weighed and sorted by grade (size). NORPAC pays the Kramer family, who then pays the workers. The workers have no idea how many pounds of each grade they have picked and must simply trust NORPAC and the Kramers to be honest.
If a bin of squash is overturned during pick-up, the harvest is considered spoiled and the workers don't receive payment for their time. While we were there, the white boy tipped over one of the bins. It wasn't clear if it was an accident or if it was done to spite us for our presence there:
People and their messages at the Kramer Farms stop:
The third stop
We stopped at one more farm that day.
The thirst for justice runs in the blood of the old and the young.
A Baptist minister speaks to the documentary makers following the walk.
Javier and Eric, two PCUN organizers.
Solidarity at Smuckers
After the third farm, we passed the Smuckers plant, where the workers were striking, and joined them in solidarity there. For full story see: "Teamsters striking at Smuckers plant in Woodburn; Farmworkers show solidarity".