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News ::
Historic victory for farmworkers in Oregon
16 Feb 2002
farmworker union finally gets corporate growers to negotiate after 10 years of struggle
¡Si se puede! Historic victory for Oregon farmworkers

In what is being called an "historic breakthrough" by PCUN (Piņeros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste), Oregon's farmworker union, the NORPAC growers' cooperative has finally agreed to "establish guidelines for farmworker unionization on the farms of growers who supply products to NORPAC". This is big news. NORPAC has resisted the entreaties of PCUN and its allies for over a decade. In a show of good faith, PCUN has called off the boycott against NORPAC that has been in effect since 1992. [ Read more ]

This victory comes after years of struggle and illustrates that a fight for justice can succeed in time. Churches, labor, students, and activists all contributed to PCUN's campaign to "stop sweatshops in the fields". Last Summer, a coalition of such folks held a seven day Walk for Farmworker Justice to call attention to the misdeeds of NORPAC and the Pictsweet Mushroom factory in Salem. The coalition asked to speak with Rick Jacobson, President of NORPAC, but he refused, calling the boycott "misdirected" and claiming that NORPAC had no authority to negotiate. [ Read more ]

The final straw for NORPAC seems to have come from Sodexho, the largest non-commercial food service provider in the world, which gave NORPAC a deadline of February 15th to "establish a clear, just, collective bargaining process" with PCUN. Sodexho threatened to take their business elsewhere if NORPAC did not meet the deadline. The company provides food service on many campuses and was pressured by students to reconsider their relationship with NORPAC. Bon Appetit and ARAMARK are two other food service companies that ceased business with NORPAC as a result of student activism. PCUN worked with the Campaign for Labor Rights to educate students and school administrators about these issues. [ Read more ]

The list of labor abuses committed by NORPAC growers is long, but includes low pay, no breaks, exposure to carcinogenic pesticides, and child labor. Workers who have attempted to organize have been met with discrimination, firings, evictions from grower-owned housing, and threats of physical violence. That NORPAC is now willing to negotiate is a significantly positive change. [ Read more ]

PCUN has also been working to gain justice for workers at the Pictsweet Mushroom plant in Salem, Oregon, which fired much of its workforce rather than negotiate with the union. That struggle continues, but not, as NORPAC's decision shows, without hope for victory.

[ Joint PCUN/NORPAC press release | PCUN website | NORPAC website | portland indymedia Walk for Farmworker Justice feature | U of O "life of a strawberry project" ]
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