Wednesday, July 11, 2018


By David Bacon
The American Prospect, July 11, 2018

A Salinas grower and the union bet that a new contract will become an alternative to employing guest workers

D'Arrigo workers march in Salinas to protest immigration raids in farm worker communities.

Up and down the Pacific coast, many of the largest growers are rapidly increasing their use of guest workers recruited in Mexico as temporary harvest labor. Farm labor, in their view, is unskilled. The workers who perform it should show up at harvest time, work as hard as possible, and then effectively disappear until the next season.

This has been the common view for over a century. It is the justification for a renewed Republican push to establish a vastly expanded guest worker program. But is the road to improving the lives of farmworkers to legislate even more massive contract-labor programs? Or is it to treat farm labor as skilled and permanent work, and provide security and decent wages to those who do it?

One Salinas grower, D'Arrigo Brothers Company, is choosing the second alternative, a choice its workers feel reflects the value of their labor. "I started working at D'Arrigo in 1979," says Efrain Fraide, who works in a company broccoli crew. "I've cut and packed every crop they have-celery, cauliflower, asparagus, broccoli, lettuce-here in Salinas and in the Imperial Valley, too. The company was poor when I went in, and now they're one of the biggest."

"We're ready to invest in our workers," says John D'Arrigo. "It's hard to find workers today, and our answer is to make the jobs attractive, and to retain the workers we have. We need a long-term workforce, and we want direct hires-people who work directly for the company."

That understanding led to a labor agreement signed in a televised ceremony in Salinas on June 29 by D'Arrigo Brothers Company and the United Farm Workers (UFW). The contract covers 1,200 D'Arrigo employees in the Salinas Valley, most of whom work about nine months of the year, and another 300 in the Imperial Valley, who work a three-month harvest.

Wages in the new contract start at $13.35 per hour-$2.35 above California's minimum wage of $11. They rise to $13.85 in the second year, and $14.40 in the third year, when the state minimum rises to $13. Many D'Arrigo workers, however, work on a piece rate (called a production incentive), which increases by 3 percent in the first year, 3 percent in the second, and 2.5 percent in the third over the three-year duration of the contract. The company has a bonus system, giving workers an additional percentage of their pay at the end of the year, and the required number of hours has been reduced so that Imperial Valley workers will receive it for the first time.

"The most important thing to me," says Odilia Aldana, a lettuce worker on the union negotiating committee, "is that the company is now going to pay for our medical plan, plus six holidays every year." The UFW administers the Robert F. Kennedy medical insurance program, and D'Arrigo has agreed to pay the whole $612 monthly premium providing medical, vision, and dental coverage for workers' families.

Workers pay deductibles for treatment, including $15 for a visit to the doctor or for prescriptions. The plan pays 90 percent of major medical bills, and the union has negotiated lower rates with local hospitals.

"For the last three years, I've cut lettuce in a crew where we're all women, except for the men who load the boxes on the truck," Aldana says. Cutting lettuce used to be a job reserved for men, who in past decades earned some of the highest wages in agriculture for backbreaking work.

Since then, the work system has changed and the pay is not what it was. Nevertheless, a few years ago the company told its women employees that it couldn't find enough men to cut all its lettuce, and asked them to take cutting jobs. "When there's a lot of lettuce in the field, we can work piece-rate and make good money," Aldana explains. "But we really earn it, and go home very tired. And if the field isn't so good, we have the hourly guarantee to fall back on."

Inside the company, the union has a workers' committee with five members, and is trying to encourage the participation of more women. Each crew has a union steward, and when workers have grievances or problems they try to resolve them directly with the supervisor.

According to UFW President Arturo Rodriguez, D'Arrigo Brothers has always relied on workers employed directly by the company. "That's good for the workers," he says. "It's more stable. The workers get educated and become more skilled, which is better for the company. And as a union, we develop a better relationship with the company because of that stability."

D'Arrigo Brothers is one of the Salinas Valley's oldest companies. Two Sicilian immigrants, Andrea and Stefano D'Arrigo, started distributing produce in Boston in 1923. After moving to California soon after, they developed the refrigerated railroad cars that allowed the state's vegetables and fruits to reach markets across the country, and the first brand-marketed produce label-Andy Boy. John D'Arrigo, the current president, belongs to the family's third generation.

The brothers were not always friends of the union, however, and the new contract represents a change in an often-contentious relationship going back half a century. The nascent United Farm Workers Organizing Committee signed a first agreement with D'Arrigo Brothers during the great Salinas lettuce battles of 1970, but it only lasted two years, and was followed by a strike. When California passed the Agricultural Labor Relations Act in 1975, the company's workers voted for the union the year afterward, but were unable to get the company to sign a union agreement.

Nevertheless, a core of union supporters have worked for the company through the decades, and over the years organized job actions to try to win better wages and conditions. In 2002, California passed a law allowing the Agricultural Labor Relations Board to impose a mediated contract settlement on an employer when the union has been certified to represent its workers. Because of the 1976 election, the law applied to D'Arrigo, and the company and UFW finally signed a contract three years ago. It is one of the largest growers to sign a union agreement as a result of the mandatory mediation law.

Both Rodriguez and D'Arrigo agree, however, that the new agreement has changed their relationship. When talks between the union and company negotiators stalled during the current bargaining, which lasted from December to June, Rodriguez and D'Arrigo met at a restaurant, and later talked by phone. "John said it made more sense to spend money on wages and benefits than on lawyers to fight with the union," the UFW president recalls. "We got far more than we've ever gotten before."

"I told my team that what happened in the past is over," D'Arrigo explained in an interview. "After we signed the agreement, I had an hour-long meeting with them and the union's negotiating team together. I told them that the company survives because of them, and that we have to develop a new way to work. We have a shrinking, aging workforce. We have to take care of who we have, and make our jobs attractive to the people who live here."

Like other Salinas growers, D'Arrigo does use labor contractors, and employs H-2A workers. Under the H-2A visa program, agricultural employers can recruit workers in other countries, under contracts of less than a year. Afterward, the workers must return home. Program regulations require growers to hire local workers first. If H-2A workers are fired for not meeting production standards or organizing, they must leave the country immediately.

"I don't have enough direct hires [directly hired permanent employees] to harvest all our crops, so I need additional workers," D'Arrigo says. "The contractor and H-2A crews are all very good workers, but they're really just a partial solution, a Band-Aid, not a real solution. Both Artie [Rodriguez] and I agree the goal is developing long-term, skilled people."

According to UFW Vice President Armando Elenes, about 200 workers for D'Arrigo are employed by labor contractors, and under the new agreement they will all belong to the union and get the wages and benefits the contract provides. An additional group of fewer than 200 H-2A workers are represented by the union and get the union contract wages. Those wages are above the level required under the Department of Labor regulations, which set the minimum H-2A wage in California this year at $13.18 per hour.

Since all the workers are receiving the same wages, there's no economic incentive to replace permanent workers with H-2A workers or a contracted labor force. That is an important issue for workers in Salinas. Two large local growers, Tanimura and Antle, and Nunes Company, have built barracks with hundreds of beds for H-2A workers. Last year, California-based H-2A recruiter Fresh Harvest brought 4,623 H-2A workers to the United States, and Elkhorn Packing (which provides workers to D'0Arrigo) brought in 2,653.

"We're all very worried about this," says longtime D'Arrigo worker Fraide. "We can see other companies laying off direct hires, and hiring H-2A workers. At D'Arrigo, because of the contract, at least we're protected for the next three years. Basically, we got what we wanted, and I'm happy. Now there's respect at work, where they used to darnos carrilla [give us a bad time]."

John D'Arrigo is a board member of the Western Growers Association, where other growers will likely question his wisdom in signing a UFW contract. "One guy already told me I'm going to cost him money," he laughs. "But we're all fighting for the same workers. We understand competition, and I'm a strong competitor. If this causes ripples, so be it. But I believe the answer to our labor shortage is investing in the workers."

He cites the contribution the company made to Natividad Hospital, which launched the D'Arrigo Family Specialty Services clinic. Natividad has hired trilingual interpreters in Spanish, English, and the indigenous Mexican languages spoken by many valley farmworkers, including Mixteco and Triqui. D'Arrigo promotes the Agricultural Leadership Council, which has 160 members and donated $2.7 million to buy equipment for the hospital.

Nevertheless, a union contract does represent increased costs. D'Arrigo says he plans to offset them by increasing the number of boxes of produce harvested per acre, and maintaining a high level of quality. The company uses increased technology, like GPS devices on tractors, and systems for using fertilizer spray to thin young plants instead of manual labor. These jobs require more highly trained workers, and keeping turnover in the workforce to a minimum.

Technology can also threaten jobs, however. "Technology is going to happen, we know that," Rodriguez says. "We remember the tomato machine and can see the industry has changed a lot and will continue to change. But we want workers to have the opportunity to change with it, to get the jobs that are created."

With a new contract, D'Arrigo Brothers is providing a set of answers to growers trying to find workers and fill harvest crews. It's an answer that differs substantially from the program laid out by Republicans in Congress.

For the last two years Representative Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has proposed legislation that could result in issuing two million new "H-2C" guest-worker visas within two years. His proposal would lock in farm labor wages near the minimum-wage level, and withhold 10 percent of guest workers' pay until they return to their country of origin. Growers would no longer have to provide them with housing or transportation, and would only have to promise to recruit local workers first. Legal aid organizations could no longer represent guest workers, who would be unable to go to court if they were cheated.

While growers' use of the H-2A program has increased sharply to more than 200,000 workers per year, immigration raids in rural areas of California have increased as well, especially following the election of President Trump. Goodlatte's proposed anti-immigrant legislation would deny legal status to the estimated 11 million undocumented people in the United States, including half of all farmworkers. Instead, it would require their employers to identify and fire them, while prohibiting guest workers from bringing their families to the United States.

"If people disappear, that would be catastrophic for us," D'Arrigo charges. "We need to wise up. We have to get people into legal status. They're already harvesting our food. And when we look at what's happening on the border, we can see there are people who want to come here. We should let them come and treat them with dignity, so they can set up life here. We certainly don't want to separate them from their families. We can't say, 'Come work for me', but your kids are starving and in danger."

Sunday, July 8, 2018


Photographs by David Bacon

On June 27 thousands of union and non-union Marriott workers organized demonstrations in San Francisco, Oakland, Honolulu, Boston, San Diego, Seattle, Philadelphia and San Jose.  Workers carried signs saying, "One Job Should Be Enough!" About 20,000 Marriott workers are represented by Unite Here. As contract negotiations get underway, some 12,000 of those employees have contracts expiring later this year. 

Marriott is the largest and richest hotel company on the planet, earning $22.9 billion in 2017.  Profits have gone up 279% since the recession, while hotel workers' annual income only increased 7%. 

According to D. Taylor, International President of UNITE HERE, "Too often workers welcome guests to Marriott hotels and deliver an unforgettable experience to them, just to leave their shift and go to a second job because working full time for Marriott isn't enough to make ends meet."

Marriott became the biggest global hotel chain when it acquired Starwood for $13.6 billion in 2016. The company's 30 brands include Ritz-Carlton, Westin and Sheraton, accounting for more than 1.2 million rooms in over 6500 hotels in 127 countries and territories. It opens a new hotel every 18 hours.

Technology is transforming hotel work, with self-check-in kiosks, robot room-service delivery, and mechanical bartenders.  In negotiations, workers want guarantees that jobs will not only pay enouogh to live on, but will last during this period of change. 

Meanwhile, hotel work is not just underpaid, but is dangerous.  In Chicago the union found roughly half of hotel housekeepers had been the victims of sexual misconduct from guests.  One man assaulted housekeepers in DC eight times over eight years.  A Florida Marriott worker was assaulted in a hotel bathroom.  In San Francisco a man committed suicide after attacking and critically injuring a housekeeper.

In negotiations Unite Here is not only demanding increases in wages and benefits, but greater protections, including panic buttons.  This year the Chicago union won them for workers with a campaign, Hands Off, Pants On.

These are a few of the many photographs taken of Marriott workers in San Francisco and Honolulu as part of the campaign at Marriott, One Job Should Be Enough.

Monday, July 2, 2018


Republican immigration reform proposals may be dead, but Republican guest worker proposals live on...
By David Bacon
Capital and Main, 7/2/18

On Wednesday, June 27, the Republican effort to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill went down in flames for the second time in a month, due to divisions within their own party. The Republican effort to create a vast new guest worker program, however, has not ended.

That effort has been headed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and is supported by many growers around the country, particularly on the west coast. Originally Goodlatte introduced a stand-alone bill in 2017, the Agricultural Guestworker Act. Although that bill didn't get a vote in Congress, its main provisions were folded into a much larger, comprehensive bill Goodlatte tried to pass this spring, the Securing America's Future Act. That bill failed by a vote of 193 to 231. Goodlatte then incorporated his guestworker provisions into the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act (H.R. 6136). That fared even worse, 121 to 301.

Nevertheless, House Speaker Paul Ryan made a promise to Congressman Dan Newhouse (R-WA) , a cosponsor of H.R. 6136, that he would hold a vote on agricultural worker issues before Congress adjourns at the end of July. After noting his minority votes for the two comprehensive immigration bills, and criticizing fellow Republicans for torpedoing them, Newhouse said in a statement, "the House has yet to address the crisis facing agriculture producers who cannot find enough workers, and I will not stop advocating for improvements to create a reliable legal guest-worker system. If our nation's farmers are to continue providing food for America and the world, it is incumbent on Congress to act to address labor needs. I thank the Speaker for committing to hold a vote on this matter in July."

Goodlatte's guestworker bill has not yet been reintroduced, but when it is, the  contents will undoubtedly be the same as in previous iterations. The latest guestworker provisions, in the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act, are a window into what's to come. Those provisions would create a massive new guestworker program, based on a new visa category called H-2C. This would take the place of the current H-2A visas, whose numbers have increased from 44,619 workers in U.S. fields in 2004 to 200,049 last year - a growth of over 450 percent in a little over a decade.

Critics of H-2A visas have two chief complaints: first, that workers in the program are exploited and often cheated, and second, that resident farm workers are displaced by growers who see H-2A workers as easier to control, and potentially less expensive. The proposed H-2C program would put the H-2A program on steroids, according to Bruce Goldstein, director of the Washington DC-based farm worker advocacy group, Farmworker Justice.

"Over the last year," Goldstein charges, "Rep. Goodlatte has made it his mission to create a massive new guestworker program of millions of captive workers who have even fewer labor rights than the current workers they would replace. His new guestworker program would convert an entire industry, from the farms and ranches to the packing houses and processing plants, from lettuce and grapes to dairy cows and poultry, into a labor force of exploitable temporary guest workers with virtually no workplace protections and with no opportunity to join the communities they are helping to feed."

Goodlatte's H-2C provisions might result in 2 million visas issued in the first two years, Farmworker Justice predicts, supplying contract labor to meatpacking and food processing in addition to agriculture. Growers would be able to employ workers year round, and continuously from one year to the next. Current H-2A workers have to return to their home countries within a year, and can come back the following year if they receive a new contract. In either program, workers have the same vulnerability. If they fail to meet grower production demands, if they complain or organize, or if they simply get on the wrong side of a foreman, they can be fired, and must leave the country immediately.

Today each state has to calculate a wage rate for H-2A workers that, in theory, doesn't undermine local farm worker wages. H-2C worker wages, however, would be set at 115% of the federal $7.50/hour minimum wage, or applicable state or local minimums. This locks in farm labor wages at the minimum wage level, since local farm workers that demand more could be replaced with contract workers. Workers' fear of replacement by H-2A labor is already affecting strawberry wages in Santa Maria, for instance.

Further, 10% of each H-2C worker's wages would be withheld and could only be claimed by going to a U.S. embassy or consulate after returning to their country of origin. This was a feature of the old bracero program, which brought hundreds of thousands of guest workers to the U.S. from 1942 to 1965. Millions of dollars in withheld wages went missing, and those braceros still living are still trying to recover them.

Today growers who want to recruit H-2A workers have to be certified by the Department of Labor and local unemployment offices, and show that they first tried to hire workers locally. In reality, this provision is not strongly enforced.  Legal aid offices around the country have brought many cases on behalf of local workers who were either replaced or not hired to begin with. But the H-2C program would eliminate certification entirely. Growers could simply promise that they'd made a local hiring effort, and that they would obey labor laws. 

The legal aid organizations that today file cases on behalf of guest workers would be barred from doing so. H-2C workers wouldn't even be able to go to court against a grower, and would have to agree to private mandatory arbitration, a system that favors employers.

"These temporary workers have no other access to attorneys," says Cynthia Rice, litigation director for California Rural Legal Assistance, which currently provides legal services to H-2A workers.  "They are left intentionally unaware of the state and federal enforcement agencies who could take their complaints; and those agencies are severely understaffed.  Prohibiting legal services from representing them will leave them unprotected and without anyone to recover the wages stolen from them.  It will eliminate any real threat that unscrupulous employers will be held accountable, and will create an incentive to replace local workers, who have access to legal representation, with contract workers who do not."

Growers would no longer be required to provide housing to guest workers, or provide transportation to the job location or back home when the work is done. Today, in many parts of the country, farm workers sleep in cars or under trees because of the lack of rural housing for migrants, and rents run high for what housing is available. H-2C workers arriving from another country would simply be thrown onto this already-inadequate and expensive housing market. Growers, meanwhile, would have no responsibility.

Goodlatte's bills have all contained heightened enforcement provisions, especially a requirement that employers use the government's E-Verify database to identify and fire workers without papers. In his H-2C program, Goodlatte would require undocumented workers to return to their home countries, and then apply to come back to their homes in the U.S. with H-2C visas. They would have to leave their families behind, however, since his bills specifically prohibit issuing visas for family members.

According to Farmworker Justice, "Rep. Goodlatte's H-2C program would harm the hundreds of thousands of U.S. workers employed in agriculture, fails to take steps to stabilize our nation's experienced agricultural workforce, and instead creates a labor system that treats workers as commodities, with a revolving door of temporary exploitable workers."

Many Republicans rejected their own party's comprehensive bills because they oppose any legal status for Dreamers (young people granted temporary status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program) and want a bill that simplyerects a border wall and increases enforcement. They might, however, be willing to give agribusiness a new guestworker program because it favors employers and denies workers a permanent legal status. During the June debates other Republicans, like Jeff Denham (R-CA) stated their public support for the Dreamers. But Denham, Devin Nunes, Kevin McCarthy and David Valadao are all San Joaquin Valley Republicans, and are either growers themselves, or come from communities where growers are politically very strong. Depending on a fractured Republican Party, therefore, would not be a sure way to avoid new guest worker programs.

At the same time, some conservative Democrats have historically voiced concern over agribusiness complaints of "labor shortages." and support for guest worker programs. California Senator Dianne Feinstein, in particular, has a long record of support. In a 2009 speech, after introducing a guest worker bill, she said, "There is a farm emergency in this country, and most of it is caused by the absence of farm labor." In 2013 she introduced a bill to help legalize undocumented farm workers, but which also proposed 336,000 guest worker visas.

While Republicans debated their comprehensive bills in June, progressive Democrats introduced a measure that provides a political alternative, the Fairness for Farm Workers Act. The proposal, authored by Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to remove the discriminatory denial of overtime pay to agricultural workers, as well as end their exclusion from many minimum wage laws.

The bill would enact on a Federal level the overtime provisions for farm workers that the California legislature passed this year, and has attracted many Democratic cosponsors. While it stands no chance in the current Republican Congress, it may serve as a vehicle for pro-worker Democrats to call the question on their own colleagues: Is the road to improving the lives of farm workers the expansion of guest worker programs? Or is it providing the existing workforce the same benefits enjoyed by most other workers, but denied to agricultural laborers by Congress eighty years ago?