June 10, 2016
By Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
McFarland, CA – Angry after their pay was cut by more than one-third, more than 400 blueberry pickers in the San Joaquin Valley voted overwhelmingly May 21 to join the United Farm Workers.
The workers, largely indigenous Mixtecos and Zapotecos from the state of Oaxaca, had walked off their jobs five days earlier after the farm’s owner, Klein Management Company, cut piecework rates from 65¢ a pound to 60¢; the rate had been 95¢ when the blueberry picking season started in mid-April. “They'd lower the price after we'd started work,” striker Jessica Ruiz told In These Times. “We wouldn't even know what the price was when we started, only at the end of the day they'd tell us.” Ruiz, who has a six-month-old son, said they worked seven days a week, and when she wanted to take Mother’s Day off, she was told, “if you don't work Sunday, you can't come to work on Monday.” Klein’s owner, Buck Klein, told the Bakersfield Californian that the market would dictate prices “even if there’s a union contract.” If Klein—which sells its blueberries under the Gourmet Trading Company brand—refuses to negotiate a first contract, a state law extended to farmworkers in 2002 allows the union to call in a mediator, whose recommendation becomes a contract if it’s approved by the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board. However, Gerawan, a fruit grower that resisted the UFW for more than 20 years, has challenged that law’s constitutionality, and the state Supreme Court agreed to hear the case last year. Read more