Wednesday, September 19, 2018


By David Bacon
The American Prospect, September 19, 2018

A crew of farm workers harvests head lettuce for D'Arrigo Brothers Company in a Salinas field.  Crew 125A has some of the longest-term workers at the company, and many of the workers cutting lettuce are women.

Women make up almost one-third of all agricultural laborers, but the presidents and most top leaders of the United Farm Workers have invariably been men. Dolores Huerta, the union's fiery co-founder, faced down growers and negotiated many of the union's contracts. She became secretary-treasurer, but not president.

Does it make a difference? The UFW has chosen a new president, Teresa Romero, who says it does. Although she's never worked in the fields, she believes her gender gives her a close connection to the lives of the women who do. 

After her election by the union's executive board on August 28 (the next convention in 2020 will make a permanent choice), Romero's first field visit was to lettuce and broccoli harvesters working in Salinas for the D'Arrigo Brothers Company. "In some crews a majority of the workers are women," she says. "There was a time when they didn't hire women for some jobs. I don't know what the reason was, but whatever it was, it was wrong. 

"Women can do everything, and we want the opportunity to do it. I've seen some older women in their 50s doing work that some younger people can't. If growers are worried about a labor shortage, there are women out there who can do the work.  But they want to be paid equally, and treated respectfully."

After 25 years as president of the United Farm Workers, Arturo Rodriguez is retiring in December, and the union has selected an immigrant woman to replace him. The UFW has had only two presidents in 50 years: Before Rodriguez, it was Cesar Chavez.

Teresa Romero, the new president of the United Farm Workers

This is more than a changing of the guard. Internally the union is trying to reflect more accurately its members. And while acknowledging the epic battles of its early years, it is coming to terms with a new group of California growers, some of whom see an advantage in cooperation, even though others still want a fight to the death.

The UFW is also looking for ways to address more directly the problems of its women members. Women in the fields are especially vulnerable in today's anti-immigrant political climate, Romero charges. "Harassment is very difficult for women to talk about, especially when they feel they might be deported and separated from their children. And for women, being fired is not their problem alone. Most are working with their husband or brother or sister, and abusers hold those jobs over their heads. It's important to have women in charge of crews as supervisors, to make it easier for a woman to come and say, 'This is what happened to me.'"

More than 90 percent of California farm workers were born in Mexico, yet UFW presidents until now have come from families with roots on the U.S. side. Chavez was born north of the border, in Yuma, Arizona, in 1927. Rodriguez, who followed Chavez in 1993, hails from San Antonio, Texas. Larry Itliong, the Filipino labor leader who shared leadership with Chavez during the union's initial five-year grape strike, was an immigrant, born in Pangasinan, in the Philippines. But he was never president.

Born in Mexico City, Romero grew up in Guadalajara, and came to the U.S. in her 20s.  She worked, successively, in a shoe store, in a lawyer's office, as assistant to Rodriguez, and finally as UFW secretary-treasurer. While she doesn't speak Zapoteco, the language of her grandmother, her roots as an immigrant with indigenous ancestry match the changing demographics of California's field laborers. People from southern Mexico, speaking Mixteco, Purepecha, and Triqui as well as Zapoteco, are the fastest-growing group among farm workers.  They've often been the backbone of UFW organizing campaigns and strikes during the last several years.

"I did what my grandmother did when she left Oaxaca to come to Mexico City," Romero says. "Like her, I moved to a different place where I didn't know the language or the culture. I never thought it would be forever, yet now I've been here over 30 years. That's what happens in the fields too. The workers and I share that same immigrant experience."

The UFW was slow to adjust to the rise in indigenous migration. In the early 1990s it signed an experimental agreement with an organization of Oaxacan migrants, the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations. Rodriguez credits its former coordinator and Mixteco leader, UCLA professor Gaspar Rivera, with helping the union understand their culture. Indigenous organizers were slowly hired. In the early 2000s the UFW became a vocal defender of Triqui-speaking workers in the Salinas Valley community of Greenfield, organizing marches when immigration raids targeted them. 

Union meetings are still mostly in Spanish, as are contracts (which are also in English), but translation into indigenous languages is becoming more common. "It has been a challenge," Romero says. "But if we don't understand people's culture, they will see us as outsiders. When we learn and understand what's important to them, it opens doors."

Cesar Chavez, the first president of the United Farm Workers.

The United Farm Workers is not the same union Cesar Chavez left in 1993 when he died in San Luis, Arizona. He'd gone to Yuma, just a few miles from his birthplace, to testify in an all-consuming legal case against one of the union's most bitter enemies, the Bruce Church lettuce company. Bruce Church, like many other growers whose workers had voted for the union in the late 1970s, refused to negotiate with the union. 
By the time Chavez died, the UFW had shrunk to a few thousand members from a peak of about 40,000 in the late 1970s. Over 160,000 workers had voted for the union under California's Agricultural Labor Relations Act, the law the union had fought for in 1975. Like Bruce Church, however, most growers wouldn't sign contracts. Many others who did either went out of business, changed their names and dumped their workers, or simply refused to renew their agreements. 

Wages fell. "Things got so bad that the year before Cesar died we wanted to do something to give people hope," Rodriguez remembers, "and thousands of workers went on strike in Coachella to raise wages." Two years later the union repeated its seminal march of 1968, from Delano to Sacramento. "Cesar was gone. But that didn't mean we wouldn't continue to fight." 

In 1996 Bruce Church finally did sign a contract to settle its decades-long legal war with the union, and over the next 25 years, the UFW stabilized and began to grow. According to Rodriguez, 10,000 people now work under union agreements, mostly in California.

A successful boycott at the Chateau Saint Michelle winery in Washington state gave organizers the idea for an arrangement to force growers to negotiate. "The workers there won a contract using the idea of mandatory mediation," he says. The threat to return to the boycott was so powerful that the company agreed that a contract would be imposed if negotiations hadn't concluded by a set date.

Odilia Aldana works in a crew of farm workers harvesting head lettuce for D'Arrigo Brothers Company in Salinas. Aldana was a member of the UFW committee that negotiated the recent union contract.

In California the union convinced the legislature to pass a law with the same mechanism, to deal with the many companies where workers had voted for the union, but which never signed contracts. Now, if a grower won't negotiate after its workers organize and vote for the union, a state mediator can write up an agreement and the Agricultural Labor Relations Board can impose it. 

Growers predictably challenged the law, but the California Supreme Court upheld it in 2008. Several large growers, employing thousands of workers, then signed contracts, either because the state imposed them, or knowing that the state would if they didn't agree. That inspired further challenges. The world's largest peach grower, the Gerawan family in Fresno, tried again to have the law declared unconstitutional, but again the state courts upheld it. That case is now on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

"Mandatory mediation is important to us," Romero says. "If workers vote for a union, we have something we can use to get an agreement. But a law on the books doesn't by itself create change in the fields." 

The union also persuaded the legislature to act on issues affecting workers far beyond its own members. Until recently, at least one worker died in the fields every year, in the fierce summer heat in the San Joaquin Valley where temperatures routinely exceed 100 degrees. When a pregnant young woman, Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, collapsed in 2008, the uproar over her death inspired protective legislation. "I went to so many funerals of people who died of the heat," Rodriguez recalls. "Her death stuck with me, though, in part because her father Doroteo lost his job when he spoke out. We won today's heat protections because of what they and others lost."

Another legislative victory gained overtime pay for farm workers on the same basis as other workers. "We convinced legislators when we reminded them that farm workers had been excluded from overtime by racism long ago," Romero says. 

Overtime pay and heat protection have now been extended to all farm workers in California. Yet, taking inflation into account, farm workers are paid much less today than they were in the period of the union's greatest strength in the late 1970s. The master vegetable contract of that era pegged starting hourly pay at about 2.5 times the minimum wage. If the same ratio held today, California farm workers would be earning over $27 an hour. Instead wages are close to the minimum of $11 an hour for large employers this year, and $12 next year. It's not uncommon to find groups of migrant workers living under trees, or sleeping in their cars at harvest time.

Retiring United Farm Workers of America President Arturo Rodriguez and farm workers from the Gallo wine ranch in Sonoma County protest the unwillingness of the company to sign a union contract. 

"While union contract wages are generally much higher than the minimum wage, the UFW faces a daunting challenge in trying to raise the income of farm workers across the board. Meanwhile, the contested terrain between growers and the union is changing rapidly. For several decades corporate growers have been globalizing their operations, growing fruit and vegetables in many countries. At the same time, as trade agreements like NAFTA have displaced poor rural communities in Oaxaca and elsewhere, farmers have come to the U.S. looking for work and survival. "We have a mostly undocumented workforce, and no immigration reform in sight," Rodriguez says. "Growers are running away to Mexico and elsewhere. It's a huge problem."

Even as immigration enforcement is creating a climate of fear in California farm-worker towns, the government is encouraging growers to hire that flow of displaced people, but only as temporary contract labor through the H-2A visa program. President Donald Trump, despite his otherwise sour anti-immigrant rhetoric, told a rural Michigan rally in February, "We have to have strong borders, but we have to let your workers in. We have to have them."

In the last few years, the number of workers brought to California on temporary H-2A work visas has climbed steeply.  The state's growers imported 3,089 H-2A workers in 2012. In 2017 the number had mushroomed to 15,232-a 500 percent increase in just five years.Some growers see the possibility of replacing at least part of their workforce of resident farm workers with this contracted labor. Some major agricultural corporations, among them Tanimura and Antle, are building barracks for hundreds of H2-A workers in Salinas.

Some immigrant rights activists have called for abolishing guest worker programs, citing the abuse of the workers, and the potential for undermining the existing farm labor workforce. Romero and Rodriguez believe growers face a labor shortage, however, and need at least some H-2A workers at peak harvest times. 

Romero argues that if there are going to be H-2A workers, the union has to protect them like other workers. "In Mexico they are charged thousands of dollars by recruiters, which is illegal. The [recruiters] bring them here and take away their documents. Some families in Mexico haven't heard from their loved ones for months, or don't even know if they're alive. And the contractors say 'no women.'" The union helped set up an organization, CIERTO, which advertises "clean recruitment." It also partners with organizations in Mexico that monitor the recruiters.

Migrant farm workers and their supporters march in Salinas to protest immigration raids. The march was organized by the United Farm Workers union, and celebrated the birthday of union founder Cesar Chavez. Retiring UFW President Arturo Rodriguez heads the march.

But the H-2A program, with its threat to replace the established work force, scares the workers living here, Romero admits. As well, defending the rights of H-2A workers is extremely difficult, as growers can fire them for protesting abuse or not working fast enough, which then triggers the workers' deportation. But Romero remains optimistic that growers will never be able to use the program to replace their workforce.

As she sees it, the future of the UFW lies in its ability to work with growers like D'Arrigo Brothers. The union just renegotiated a contract with the company covering 1500 resident farm workers, along with about 200 H-2A visa holders. Some D'Arrigo employees have worked at the company for several decades. John D'Arrigo says that the key to dealing with the current shortage of farm labor is to encourage workers to stay by making them direct employees, rather than hiring them through contractors.

"With direct hires, there's less product left in the field," Romero says, outlining a potential increase in productivity. "D'Arrigo wants the workers to come back year after year-a workforce that is part of the community. If he gives them benefits, they'll want to keep coming back. We can have a training program, with older workers spending time with newer ones. The company can listen more to the workers, to see what works and what doesn't, making workers part of the solution-not just pushing them to work faster." Items like the training program remain options for future contracts, but the new agreement does provide family health care, with the company paying the premiums, along with increased job security.

Cooperation, Romero believes, helps both management and labor. "When we work together workers bring solutions to the table. Production is better. Quality is better."

Part of her argument is that farm labor is undervalued, not just economically, but socially. "Growers need a competent and stable workforce," she emphasizes. "Nobody knows what's happening at the farm level better than the workers. The people are skilled and experienced. They have endurance. Farm work is a profession that deserves the same respect and consideration as a reporter or an engineer." 

Cooperation, however, hasn't often been the norm in agricultural labor relations. According to Rodriguez, "We have to change what attracts workers to agriculture. There have to be better wages, but that's not everything. The work can't require that someone be disabled by their job by the time they're 50 years old." 

The UFW, however, was born in massive strikes and national boycotts, which forced giant grape growers like John Giumarra and Richard Bagdasarian to sign contracts in 1970. Those companies are still a big presence in California agriculture, and not at all friendly to the union. 

If the union has to fight, the boycott is still an effective weapon, Rodriguez says. "You don't need to cut 50 percent of their business. A small group of committed people can influence consumers and have an impact. If there's no other way, then that's necessary."

Romero agrees, although she'd clearly prefer talking to fighting. "People like Giumarra-I don't know if we'll ever change them," she says. "Those who want to do things the old way have to be forced to change conditions. If workers say a company isn't doing right, and they want to strike and boycott, then we're going to do it."

Josefina Puga harvests head lettuce for D'Arrigo Brothers Company in a Salinas field.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018


Photoessay By David Bacon
Capital and Main, 9/12/18

Family members of detainees, including Maria Lopez, Adrianna, and Hulissa Aguilar, called on ICE to release their loved ones after it was announced the center would close.

More photos below.

Bay Area immigrant communities and immigrant rights activists felt they'd won an important victory July 10. At a news conference, Sheriff David Livingston, flanked by the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, announced that his department was ending its contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold immigration detainees in Richmond at the West County Detention Facility, one of the county's four jails.

Immediately, the organizations that had put pressure for years on the county over its cooperation with ICE demanded the release of the detainees, urging authorities not to transfer them to another location. For the next two months, until the immigrant facility inside the jail was closed, detainees' families and their supporters mobilized to get legal help, and raise the bond money needed to bail people out of detention. In the end, they raised tens of thousands of dollars, and freed 21 of about 175 detainees held inside the center. The rest were transferred.

A final vigil held September 1, after the ICE facility closed, was a bittersweet moment. For seven years, monthly vigils had been held under the portico next to the center's doors. After the sheriff was forced to abandon the ICE contract, however, activists and families were forced to gather next to a new chain-link fence, in the traffic lane of the highway outside the detention center's parking lot.

Several former detainees, some freed just days before, came with their families to celebrate. Other families, however, faced the reality that their detained loved ones were now far away, in centers ranging from Adelanto in San Bernardino County to Arizona. Alexa Lopez's father, Raul, was taken to a facility in Colorado.

"We can't see him anymore," said his wife Dianeth.

At the end of an hour of songs, prayers and speeches, the participants wrote messages on white ribbons to those still detained, and tied them onto the chain-link fence.

ICE spokesman Richard Rocha accused those who had pressured the county of being responsible for separating families. In a statement when the contract was canceled he said, "Instead of being housed close to family members or local attorneys, ICE may have to depend on its national system of detention bed space to place those detainees in locations farther away, reducing the opportunities for in-person family visitation and attorney coordination." Immigrant rights activists called that a threat and tried to free as many detainees as they could.

Rev. Deborah Lee, director of the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, and the central organizer of the vigils, said the faith groups involved had to examine their conscience. "The transfer of many detainees instead of their release was hard to swallow at first, and many families felt helpless," she said. "We asked ourselves if we were responsible for their transfer, as ICE accused us. But the families reminded us that ICE moves detainees all the time, and often they don't know where their own family members are."

The ICE argument, that forcing the county to divest from cooperation in detention would harm the detainees, is similar to arguments heard during the fight for divestment from apartheid in South Africa. Corporations investing in South Africa at the time said divestment would harm those people who divestment proponents were trying to support.

Opposing divestment, however, was then and is now also a matter of economic self-interest. ICE was paying Contra Costa County $3 million per year to house immigrant detainees. Yet the sheriff didn't hire any new employees with the money, according to Lee. Instead his department relied on overtime by the existing workforce. In a petition a year ago detainees complained they were being held in cells 23 hours a day, that there were no toilets in the cells, and that free time for calling relatives or taking showers was often canceled. One detainee asked to be deported in preference to continued detention.

"County jails are the worst place to be an immigrant detainee, even worse than many of the huge privately operated detention centers," Lee charges. "They have far fewer services for people, and aren't built for long-term detention. Of course, what does that say about the conditions for the non-immigrant people imprisoned there?"

ICE has facilities located in hundreds of county jails around the country, building a dependency among counties on the money paid for housing detainees. The city councils of Hoboken and Jersey City protested when Hudson County, New Jersey, supervisors (all Democrats) voted last July to renew its ICE detention contract. "The county and cities shouldn't be in the business of profiting off human misery," Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop told the New York Times. Sacramento was receiving $6.6 million annually from ICE before it canceled its contract in June. Other contracts have also been canceled in Santa Ana, Virginia and Texas.

The vigils at the West County Detention Facility went on longer than protests at any other county jail. "They created a monthly platform," Lee explains, "where detainee families could come and ask for support. A consistent, regular event provided a place where people who weren't necessarily activists could participate. People brought their children, made their own signs, and came to play music. Often one person from a congregation would come at first, and then go back and recruit others. From the beginning, we were committed to the long haul."

Lee relied on faith congregations as a base, and each month appealed to one of them to take responsibility for the vigil. As the vigils gained momentum and before they were successful, Lee explained why congregations were morally obligated to be involved: "Since the detention center is in our community, we can't look away. We have to own it, to scrutinize and examine what goes on inside, and be involved with the detainees and their families. Ultimately, we have to force our local authorities to divest and get out of the business of detention, and stop collaborating and making money from it. It's not impossible. It's something that people can do to end the detention system."

Supporters of Lourdes Barraza and her husband Fernando were able to raise the bond to get him released. He came to the next vigil to show support for other families, holding his youngest daughter.

Alexa Lopez hoped her father, Raul, would be released in time to celebrate her quinceñera (15th birthday).  After the Contra Costa County Sherriff announced he was closing the center some detainees were released on bond, but to the dismay of Alexa and her mother, Raul was not one of them, and he was transferred to Colorado.

Liliana comforted her niece after she saw her mother for the first time in 8 months.  Her mom was not released, however.

Family members of detainees called on ICE to release their loved ones after it was announced the center would close. 

Rev. Deborah Lee, the vigil organizer and director of the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity.

Other faith activists outside the detention center the day it closed.

Kara Hernandez and her son Victor Jr. came to the last vigil with her husband, Victor, who had just been released before the immigration detention center was closed.  

Victor Hernandez embraced Hugo Aguilar during the last vigil, showing the friendship that had developed between them during months inside.

Hulissa Aguilar came to a vigil to ask for help to get her father Hugo released.  After raising the bond and getting him out, the family was reunited at the last vigil, together with Hugo's sister Isela and brother Gonzalo.

The Sherriff put up a fence to keep vigil participants out of the parking lot and away from the detention center, after he was forced by county supervisors to end the contract with ICE to run it.

Hulissa Aguilar and Victor Hernandez, along with many vigil participants, tied ribbons to the fence after writing messages on them expressing support for the families of other detainees.

Friday, August 17, 2018


By David Bacon
The American Prospect, August 15, 2018

While Washington state agencies reduce farmworker pay and find employers faultless for a death in the fields, Trump and congressional Republicans back proposals to turn farmworking into permanent indentured servitude.

Farmworkers and supporters gather in the morning at the start of their 14-mile march.

More photos from the march:

On Sunday, August 5, a group of 200 farmworkers and supporters began walking at sunrise along the shoulder of Benson Road, heading north from Lynden, Washington, toward Canada. When they reached O Road, the marchers turned right to walk along the border. Unlike the frontier with Mexico, with its walls, floodlights, and patrols, the border line here is no line at all-simply a road on each side of a weed-choked median.

The procession, chanting and holding banners, passed a succession of blueberry fields for the next 14 miles, finally reaching the official border crossing at Sumas. Pausing for a protest in front of the local immigrant detention center, it then continued on until it reached its objective one mile further on-the 1,500-acre spread of Sarbanand Farms. There, in front of the ranch's packing and warehouse facilities, participants staged a tribunal.

"We are here to assign responsibility for the death of Honesto Silva," announced Rosalinda Guillen, director of Community2Community, one of the march's main organizers. A year before the march, Silva, an H-2A guest worker brought from Mexico to harvest the farm's blueberries, collapsed and later died.

Protesters march along the U.S./Canada border, where there is no wall or fence separating the two countries.  The march is led by Modesto Hernandez, a disabled farm worker, in a wheelchair.

Walking past the fields, one of Silva's coworkers, Raymond Escobedo (his name has been changed to protect his identity) remembers the day he died. "I could see he wasn't feeling well, and he asked to leave work. They wouldn't give him permission, but he went back to the barracks to rest anyway. Then the supervisor went and got him out and forced him back to work. Honesto continued to feel bad, and finally had to pay someone to take him to the clinic. When he got to the clinic he was feeling even worse, and they took him to the hospital in Seattle. And so he died."

Sarbanand denied any responsibility for Silva's death, and claimed it was a manager who'd called an ambulance to bring him to the local clinic.

Silva's death, however, came on top of growing anger among workers about their living and working conditions. "From the time we came from Mexico to California we had complaints," Escobedo says. "There was never enough to eat, and often the food was bad. Some of the food was actually thrown out. Still, they took money for it out of our checks. They took out money for medical care, too, but we never got any. The place they had us stay was unsafe and there were thefts. Some workers in California protested and the company sent them back to Mexico."

Sarbanand Farms belongs to Munger Brothers, LLC, a family corporation based in Delano, California. Since 2006, the company has brought more than 600 workers annually from Mexico under the H-2A visa program, to harvest 3,000 acres of blueberries in California and Washington. Munger calls itself the world's largest blueberry grower, and is the driving force behind the growers' cooperative that markets under the Naturipe label. Last year, it brought Silva and the other H-2A workers across the border. It took them first to Delano, and once they finished harvesting blueberries there, it transferred them to Sarbanand Farms in Washington.

Marchers at daybreak.

"We thought that when we got to Sumas, things would get better," Escobedo recalls. "But it was the same. There still wasn't enough to eat, and a lot of pressure on us to work faster, especially when we were working by the hour. They wouldn't let us work on the piece rate [which would have paid more]. But what really pushed us to act was what happened to Honesto, when he got sick and there was no help for him."

Escobedo's account is at odds with a statement Sarbanand Farms gave to Univision following Silva's death. In it, the company claimed "it is always our goal to provide [the workers] with the best working and living conditions." It called the barracks "state of the art facilities" and described the food as "catered meals at low cost." Silva himself "received the best medical care and attention possible as soon as his distress came to our attention. Our management team responded immediately."

Lynne Dodson, secretary treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, was one of the marchers earlier this month. As upset as she was to hear about Silva's death, she says, she was even more outraged by what happened next. When they heard Silva had been taken to the hospital, 70 of his fellow H-2A workers refused to go into the fields, and instead demanded to talk with the company about the conditions. They were then fired. Because the H-2A regulations require workers to leave the country if they are terminated, firing them effectively meant deporting them.

"Workers may not leave assigned areas without permission of the employer or person in charge, and insubordination is cause for dismissal," the Sarbanand statement says. "H-2A regulations do not otherwise allow for workers engaging in such concerted activity."

Jeff Johnson, President, and Lynne Dodson, Secretary Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council on the march.

That, Dodson contends, is a very dangerous policy. "If you get deported for collective activity," she says, "that's basically saying you have no enforceable labor rights. No right to organize. No right to speak up on the job. No right to question working conditions without being deported." This creates a threat, she charges, that goes beyond farmworkers. "Because H-2A workers are vulnerable, employers bring them in rather than hiring workers living and working in the area. What's to stop that from becoming the norm in every industry? Here in a state with almost 20 percent of the workers organized, we see a farmworker who died and others fired because they tried to organize. If this happens here, imagine what can happen in other states."

Silva was only one of the many workers who die in U.S. fields every year-417 in 2016 alone. What has made his death stand out, however, is the way it has highlighted the conditions for H-2A guest workers at a time when growers and their Republican Party allies are seeking to expand the program.

In that effort, they have the support of President Donald Trump, despite his otherwise sour anti-immigrant rhetoric. At a Michigan rally in February, he told supporters, "For the farmers it's going to get really good. ... We have to have strong borders, but we have to let your workers in. .... We're gonna let them in because you need them. ... Guest workers, don't we agree? We have to have them."

Companies using the H-2A program must apply to the U.S. Department of Labor, listing the work and living conditions and the wages workers will receive. The company must provide transportation and housing. Workers are given contracts for less than one year, and must leave the country when their work is done. They can only work for the company that contracts them, and if they lose that job they must leave immediately.

Rosalinda Guillen, director of Community2Community, was the principal organizer of the march.

In 2017, Washington growers were given H-2A visas for 18,796 workers, about 12,000 of whom were recruited by WAFLA (formerly the Washington Farm Labor Association, a H-2A labor contractor). "We could be close to 30,000 this year," says WAFLA president Dan Fazio. Last year, about 200,000 H-2A workers were recruited nationwide and brought to the United States. This year, the number is expected to exceed 230,000.

Over the past two years, H-2A expansion bills, authored by Republican Representative Bob Goodlatte, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, would have eliminated most of the very limited worker protections. 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 that Goodlatte tried to pass this spring, the Securing America's Future Act, H.R. 6136. That bill failed by a vote of 193 to 231.

Following the failure of the stand-alone bills, Republican Representative Dan Newhouse, a cosponsor of H.R. 6136, won a promise from House Speaker Paul Ryan to hold a vote on guest-worker expansion before the end of July. Newhouse then inserted one proposal into the budget bill for the Department of Homeland Security. His proposal would allow growers to employ H-2A workers without being limited to temporary contracts of less than a year.

Critics charge that the change would make replacing current farmworkers with H-2A workers much more attractive to growers. According to Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice, "The H-2A program is premised on the alleged difficulty of finding U.S. workers for seasonal farm jobs because they yield low annual incomes. ... Agricultural employers with year-round jobs should do what any other employer must do to attract and retain workers: improve wages and working conditions."

Farm worker advocates call for a boycott of Naturipe, the label under which berries grown by Sarbanand Farms are sold.  Honesto Silva was an H-2A farm worker at Sarbanand Farms when he died.

Another Newhouse effort involved placing a waiver into the 2018 appropriations bill that allows growers, for the first time, to use federal subsidies for housing for H-2A workers. While H-2A regulations require growers to provide housing (a provision Republican bills have sought to eliminate), this proposal would allow growers to use the very limited public funds for building housing for U.S. resident farmworkers on housing for H-2A workers instead. "There are many farmworkers who are living outdoors in cars, in garages, and many other places," Goldstein said. "Any available subsidies to develop farmworker housing should be used to address the shortage for U.S. farmworkers and their families."

Washington state itself has also given farmworker housing subsidies to WAFLA and other growers who use the funds for H-2A housing. Daniel Ford at Columbia Legal Aid, Washington's legal service organization for farmworkers, protested to the state Department of Commerce. Ford notes that the department's own surveys showed that 10 percent of farmworkers who are Washington residents were living outdoors in a car or in a tent, and 20 percent were living in garages, shacks, or "in places not intended to serve as bedrooms." The department refused to bar growers from using the program to house H-2A workers, however.

This was not the first instance of very favorable treatment by Washington state authorities toward H-2A contractors and the growers who employ H-2A workers. Craig Carroll, for instance, ag programs director at the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD) overseeing H-2A certification, spoke three times at WAFLA's "H-2A Workforce Summit" in Ellensburg on January 27, 2017. He shared the stage with Roxana Macias, director of compliance for the CSI H-2A recruiting agency. Macias herself worked for ESD for two years, and then for WAFLA for three years, before heading compliance at CSI.

This year, at WAFLA's instigation, the ESD and the U.S. Department of Labor effectively slashed the legal minimum for farmworker wages by up to $6 per hour. ESD is required to survey wages every year so that it can establish the Adverse Effect Wage Rate-a minimum wage for H-2A workers that theoretically won't undercut the wages of resident farm labor. In January, after ESD published its wage survey, WAFLA appealed to have the piece-rate wages removed, leaving only an hourly guarantee.

Martha Ojeda, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, a coalition of churches and workers centers, was a judge in the tribunal in front of Sarbanand Farms.

Last year's hourly AEWR wage was $14.12 an hour. In the Washington apple harvest, however, most workers are paid a piece rate that can reach the equivalent of $18 to $20 hourly. ESD and the Department of Labor agreed with WAFLA to remove the piece-rate minimum, effectively lowering the harvest wage by as much as $6 an hour. WAFLA President Dan Fazio boasted, "This is a huge win and saved the apple industry millions. Really glad we could help."

Nor was this the first time WAFLA sought to manipulate the wage survey. In 2015, WAFLA told growers not to report piece-rate wages, just hourly ones. Fazio explained, "We want to encourage you to be smart and strategic in your answers to help yourself and the other people in your industry."

Given this history, it came as no surprise to Washington state farmworkers and supporters that Sarbanand Farms would find itself freed from legal liability for Honesto Silva's death. In February, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries announced that he'd died of natural causes, and that the company was not responsible. The department said it had investigated conditions there and had found no workplace health and safety violations.

Yet according to both Escobedo and a suit filed by Columbia Legal Services against Sarbanand Farms, Nidia Perez, who supervised workers on behalf of the H-2A recruiter CSI, had threatened workers there before Silva's death, telling them that they had to work "unless they were on their death bed," and that they had to pick two boxes of blueberries an hour or they'd be sent back to Mexico. (Sarbanand has not responded to the allegation or to calls to the company for comment.) A temperature of over 90 degrees "was in normal ranges and given that the workers are accustomed to working in much higher temperatures in California and Mexico, it is very unlikely that heat played a role," claimed the pro-grower website Heavy smoke from forest fires on the day Silva collapsed played no role either, it seems.

In front of the ICE immigrant detention center in Sumas, Burien Mayor Jimmy Matta condemned the deportation of the strikers at Sarbanand Farms.

In February, Sarbanand Farms was fined $149,800 by Washington's Department of Labor and Industry for not providing required breaks and meal periods, an amount a judge later cut in half in July. The food was fine as well, apparently. "We were unable to substantiate the concern regarding the quality or quantity of the food provided," ESD's Craig Carroll wrote in an August 7 email.

Assessing the size of the fine, march organizer Guillen told the workers' tribunal by the entrance to Sarbanand Farms, "We completely reject the idea that Silva's life was worth $75,000. No amount of money can pay for the life of a farmworker."

Jimmy Matta, mayor of the Seattle suburb of Burien, also marched in the protest. Matta had been physically attacked at an outdoor event in Burien in late July because of his support for Burien's immigrant sanctuary ordinance. The incident, which is being investigated by the FBI, followed a well-funded anti-immigrant campaign against Matta and the ordinance.

"It's been said that H-2A workers are being taken care of, that they have everything they need," Matta commented bitterly. "Unfortunately, here we have an individual that wasn't taken care of. They made him work. He suffered from heat exhaustion. And now we have an individual who will never see his family again."

Tuesday, July 31, 2018


By David Bacon
Foreign Policy in Focus, July 31, 2018 (Originally published in Lobelog)

Oil workers on a drilling rig in the Rumaila field

As uncertainty continues over the results of Iraq's May 12 election, the deterioration in social services that brought about the victory of the Sairoon coalition has impelled thousands of people to take to the streets to protest the increasingly difficult conditions of their lives.

Throughout July, Iraq was rocked by demonstrations, road blockades, tent occupations, and the invasion of oil fields by thousands of people, especially in the country's oil-rich south. Thirteen people were killed in a series of at least eight protests in the first half of the month, and at least 47 others were wounded, including two children by gunfire and one beaten with rifle butts. The government cut off Internet access for days in many parts of the country to make organizing the protests more difficult and impede the flow of information about the repression.

The protests started at the West Qurna 2 oilfield on July 8 and spread to other oil fields in the area, including the huge Rumaila field, and into the city of Basra itself. From there they spread to other provinces and cities, including Baghdad, Kut, Amarah, Karbala, Najaf, Babil, Dhi Kar, Missan, and Muthanna. An oil worker, Muhammad, told Human Rights Watch investigators that he saw one man, in a tent erected on the highway, struck and killed by a bullet. That road occupation continued for several days afterwards, while other street occupations were set up in Basra, which were then also attacked by police.

The Badr Brigade, headed by Hadi al-Amiri, a presidential candidate in the last election, was among the forces shooting demonstrators. Protesters demonstrated outside the organization's headquarters in Basra, and Badr Brigade paramilitaries then fired on the crowd, wounding two children.

Videos and photos led to the identification of other government forces responsible for the shootings, including federal anti-riot police, as well as the police for the oil fields. People were beaten with clubs and pipes, and some were beaten after being taken into custody. A Humvee hit one person, and troops used teargas and water cannons in addition to bullets.

At least 81 people were arrested, and as of the end of July none had been released or charged. Jabbar Mohammed Karam al-Bahadli, a lawyer petitioning for the release of those detained in the protests, was killed in a drive-by shooting on July 23 in Basra.

Power Outage

Demonstrations escalated when electrical service collapsed completely in several provinces, including Basra, Shi Qar and Missan, and partially in Nineveh and Kirkuk, on July 27. Temperatures that day reached 120 degrees, not unusual for the Iraqi summer, and people had no power to run air conditioners or other cooling equipment. The government's Southern Electricity Transport Department blamed the outage on "a technical malfunction in the Nassiriya thermal station on Thursday afternoon [which] led to the disconnection in the southern area and the stoppage of generating stations, and put the high voltage lines out of service."

In mid-July government negotiators had promised to respond to demonstrators' demands, and the protest wave abated temporarily. But the electrical failure, compounded by more violence against protesters by authorities, produced a new round of demonstrations. "It is expected that the electricity network will be restored to its normal status in the upcoming period of time," the Southern Electricity Transport Department said in its Thursday statement. "Normal" 24-hour electrical service in southern Iraq, however, is basically non-existent.

In the West Qurna 2 field demonstrators mounted a sit-in on the highway. At first, local officials seemed willing to negotiate with them, but security forces then arrived to disband the protest encampment. An Iraqi brigadier general then brokered an agreement with Lukoil, the Russian company that operates the field, to provide 200 jobs to local residents from Az al-Din Saleem. Nevertheless, demonstrators both at West Qurna 2 and at Zubair announced that they would continue their protests.

The Role of the Unions

Iraq's trade unions, especially the oil workers, have played a central role in organizing the demonstrations. Hassan Gomaa Awad Asadi, president of the Federation of Oil Unions in Iraq, explained the protests' origins in an email interview:

"The demonstrations in southern Iraq are not an accident. They are the accumulation of 16 years of rage. The southern regions in particular suffer from clear negligence by successive governments, although these areas are the richest in Iraq, where 75% of the oil is produced. Yet they suffer from marginalization and deprivation.

"The current government and the previous governments are responsible for the deteriorating conditions of electricity and water. The Iraqi people do not have the most basic rights of citizenship. Their demands are simple and just-to provide basic services. People have a legitimate right to public services, such as electricity and desalination of water. The government must provide job opportunities for the unemployed, who constitute a very high percentage of Iraqi society.

"Unfortunately we do not see any response. Instead, the state has threatened demonstrators with arrest, and even fired live ammunition at them. This has enraged the public, and today's demonstrations in Basra are the result. Demonstrators have begun to escalate their demands, which now include the dismissal of the government. Participating in demonstrations is a legitimate right of the people, and the demonstrators are the sons and daughters of Iraq.

"The Federation of Oil Unions is very involved in these demonstrations. From the beginning Basra has been the spark of this movement, and our union has been a key player. We will not abandon the defense of our nation and our people. We believe that the people have the right to the oil wealth. This is what the Iraqi constitution says. And we are responsible to the people, so we are fighting to improve their situation.

"The demonstrations have spread into the oil fields, especially in the north of Basra, West Qurna 1 and West Qurna 2. The people most affected by this crisis live near the oil fields, so this is a message the angry masses have delivered to the government. We are able and willing to go anywhere to claim our legitimate rights."

Environmental Crisis

Protesters included a group in Garma, which accused the oil companies that operate the fields of contaminating the water and soil, and demanded "treatment of high water salinity that has killed the trees and plants and destroyed our land." The Al-Jazaeer Coalition, composed of over 12 tribes in Basra province, said in a statement distributed by the Baghdad News Agency that they experience "environmental pollution as a result of clouds of smoke" and "the destruction of agricultural land and the pollution of the water." Exxon Mobil and the Russian company Lukoil operate the West Qurna 2 fields, BP handles the Rumaila field, the Malaysian Petronas is in charge of the Gharaf field , and the Italian ENI runs the al-Burjisiya field .

Rising water salinity is part of a broad and growing environmental crisis. The Iraqi government failed to protest effectively over the construction of dams in Turkey and Iran on the Tigris River. The reduction of water flow into Iraq has exacerbated the crisis. This year the government even banned the cultivation of rice and corn because of the water shortage. "Thousands of people may be displaced and become migrants due to the scarcity," predicted the Iraq Civil Society Solidarity Initiative.

Hashmeya Alsaadawe, president of the Basra Trade Union Federation and head of the electrical workers' union, asked on Iraqi national television, "Against whom are these military troops and arms directed? To the unarmed citizens who call for their legitimate demands of a dignified life! They only need water, electricity, and job opportunities. Who should we address our demands to? The local government doesn't respond!"

Alsaadawe and other Iraqi unionists supported Sairoon, a political coalition in Iraq's May 12 national elections that won the most deputies, with 1.3 million votes. It was followed by the Fatah Party of Hadi al-Amiri, whose base rests on militias with ties to Iran. Al-Amiri's Badr Brigade, however, has been accused of firing on demonstrators in the July protests. No party has been able to assemble a coalition with support from a majority of deputies and thus form a new government. In addition, the vote count in several provinces has been challenged. The ensuing political paralysis has accentuated the frustration of Iraqis with the deterioration in electricity and water services and employment, for which the government is responsible.

Sairoon itself is the product of many years of street protests over these issues. In the Iraqi Spring of 2011, at least 45 people died and hundreds were arrested. In 2015, Iraqis began demonstrating every Friday, denouncing the corruption of sectarian political parties, holding them responsible for the crisis in electrical power, clean water, and employment.

Sairoon's program grew out of those rallies. It called for an end to the system that divided political positions and government support along sectarian lines, a system imposed by the U.S. after its occupation of Iraq in 2011. Basing a governmental structure on sectarian political parties led to a system of patronage and division of spoils, and consequently enormous corruption. The alliance's slogan in response was "To Build a Civil State, a State of Citizenship and Social Justice."

Union president Hassan Gomaa Awad Asadi blamed the problems in Iraq ultimately on the United States:

"The root of our problems in Iraq is the American government. After the occupation it pushed on us people who are not competent. U.S. pressure, and the intervention of international financial institutions in the administration of the state, have brought about the current crisis. After more than 16 years, all the political parties, including the Islamist and Shiite parties in the state administration, have failed.

"I do not think that the demonstrations are a consequence of the elections, although people are not immune from the electoral system. Rather, these events are an inevitable result of the government's neglect and financial corruption in the state system. The parliamentary system in Iraq is a failure and corrupt to the bone, filled with politicians who pass laws just to advance their own self-interest. This is an inevitable result of the system of political quotas, which has caused us great harm.

"This corrupt system is responsible for the massive theft of public funds. This despicable conduct is basically stealing from the poor. There is no accountability for how they are spent. Since 2003 the government has wasted more than $48 billion dollars on the electrical grid alone, while the country lives in darkness."

Wednesday, July 18, 2018


By David Bacon
The American Prospect, July 18, 2018

But advocates want detainees freed, not sent to for-profit jails

The Reverend Izzy Alvaran, who gained asylum from the Philippines a decade ago, leads protesters in a chant outside the detention center.

Most Latina teenagers celebrate their a quinceañera, or 15th birthday, with parties and dances. Sometimes their families even rent a hall and hire a band. On June 9, Alexa Lopez, dressed in a pink tulle gown, held her quinceañera outside the West County Detention Center in Richmond, California. Her father, Raul, had been locked inside for a year and a half.

The celebration, organized with the help of the Interfaith Movement 4 Human Integrity (IM4HI), was in part an effort to help Alexa feel that, despite her family's separation, she was surrounded by a community that understood the importance of that day. But it was also a way to show to the larger world the terrible cost of immigration detention and family separation.

Perhaps that was one element convincing Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston to announce, a month later, that he was canceling the county's contract to house immigration detainees for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency of the Department of Homeland Security. Detainees' families and their supporters called that a victory, but only a partial one.

"While in the long view," cautions Reverend Deborah Lee, IM4HI's director, "ending Contra Costa County's incarceration of immigrant detainees is a step towards ending immigration detention-and part of a growing trend of local municipalities to end contractswith ICE detention-the action by the sheriff is not yet a victory. It will not be a real victory unless current ICE detainees are released and reunited with their families."

Lourdes Barraza speaks out in front of the detention center

The Contra Costa County cancellation is not unique. Several cities and counties have taken the same action in recent months, including Sacramento and Monterey Counties last month. Santa Ana, in conservative Orange County, voted in 2016 to phase out its ICE contract, leading ICE to simply pull out of the jail. Around the country, ICE contracts have been canceled in Springfield, Oregon, and Williamson County, Texas. In Alexandria, Virginia, just across the river from the White House, the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center recently decided to stop imprisoning immigrant children.

Most cancellations have been motivated by public outrage over the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy, under which every migrant crossing the border without papers is being criminally charged and held in detention centers. More than 3,000 children have been torn from their parents in this process. Thousands of other young border crossers, unaccompanied by adults, have been incarcerated as well.

The West County Detention Facility is housed in a much larger jail, one of four Contra Costa County criminal lockups. Its official capacity is 1,096 people, of whom 150 to 300 have been detainees in a facility run by ICE, which pays the county $3 million a year to use it.  Some immigration detainees have been held because ICE says they're in the country illegally. Others have been asylum seekers detained on arrival in the United States or legal residents with past offenses (often very minor ones) that makes them deportable.

Detainees await a hearing before an immigration judge. That hearing, however, is not the normal courtroom procedure one might imagine. The judge sits in a room in the ICE building on Sansome Street in San Francisco. The immigrant sits in a room at the detention center in Richmond. The hearing takes place over the Internet. In the past week, demonstrators protesting the detention of migrants have occupied the street outside the San Francisco building.

Reverend Deborah Lee, executive director of the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity

The decision in Contra Costa County, however, was not simply a reaction to the controversy of recent weeks. For seven years, IM4HI and its predecessor, the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights, have organized a monthly vigil outside the detention center doors. Churches, synagogues, and other religious bodies (most recently Zen Buddhists), as well as community organizations, have all taken turns bringing their members out. The gatherings usually number more than 100, and a recent rally, part of the national demonstrations against the detention of children, drew 3,000. Close to 10,000 people have come to the vigils, some more than once, and a few come every time.

"The vigils have been important because they made our community aware that the detention center was there," says Reverend Lee. "We have a responsibility. We can't say, 'We didn't know.'"

Several years ago, the faith-based network also began holding educational events in churches and organizing delegations to Mexico and Central America, in which faith leaders talked with activists about the root causes convincing migrants to leave home and risk detention, deportation, and family separation.

"For us, the vigils have been an organizing platform," Lee explains, "an ongoing teach-in, and a chance for people to see who's in this jail and talk to them about why they've come."

Over the years, the vigils have provided activists a way to communicate with people inside the center and find ways to support them and their families. On one Saturday earlier this year on February 3, Lourdes Barraza and her daughters Sofia, Isabel, and Anna waited to hear news of her husband and the girls' father, Fernando, who'd already spent three months inside. Reverend Pablo Morataya gathered members of the First Hispanic Presbyterian Church in east Oakland, a sanctuary congregation, as well as other pastors and lay ministers serving immigrant congregations throughout the Bay Area. They went to the detention center to hold a vigil for Fernando. "There are risks," Pastor Morataya says, "but for us it is a calling of our faith."

With that support, Fernando was freed several weeks later. Not long afterward, at a tribunal held in the shadow of the jail, Fernando and other former detainees told the story of their imprisonment, and community members testified in opposition to policies criminalizing migration.

Alexa Lopez, her mom, and Reverend Deborah Lee outside the detention center

Encounters between faith activists and the families of detainees have often been very dramatic. During one vigil outside the detention facility three years ago, Paola (not her real name) was standing with supporters when she got a phone call from Florencio, her husband.  He was in another detention center in Arizona, calling to tell her that la migra (immigration agents) had caught him in the desert, walking north with a dozen others. She collapsed into the arms of a church member next to her, both of them weeping.

"I was there with people from the church who were helping us," she remembers. "We'd been praying for people they knew who were inside, and we began singing. Then my cell phone rang.  I was so afraid of getting that call, because I knew what it would be. Then they were praying for me too."

St. John's Presbyterian Church in Berkeley had helped Paola apply for asylum, and was eventually able to get her husband out of detention. Activists refer to this support as "accompaniment," a term that originated in the 1980s in efforts to protect activists in El Salvador from death squads. People showed their solidarity with those in danger by accompanying them physically. Today, accompaniment is part of the movement giving sanctuary to migrants.   Activists support a family by helping them find food and shelter, and getting them legal help. Sanctuary congregations have multiplied to 32 throughout the Bay Area.

"The West County Detention Center became a local symbol of a national problem," Reverend Lee says, "but it is also a real place holding real people. We've been committed from the beginning, not just to protest the symbol, but to do what we can to know, to support, and finally to liberate the people inside. It's not about self-interest. It's about moral interest."

The fate of the 169 people currently incarcerated in the center, however, is uncertain in the wake of Sheriff Livingston's announcement canceling the contract. Instead of being released, as advocates have hoped, people are being transferred to other ICE jails. Raul, the father of Alexa Lopez, was taken to a facility in Colorado. "We can't see him anymore," his wife Dianeth told Lee.

In a statement, ICE spokesperson Richard Rocha said that the decision to cancel the contract would negatively impact local ICE operations, but would hurt detainees more. "Now, instead of being housed close to family members or local attorneys, ICE may have to depend on its national system of detention bed space to place those detainees in locations farther away, reducing the opportunities for in-person family visitation and attorney coordination."

In 2011, people of faith began holding a vigil outside the West County Detention Center, where immigrants are incarcerated before being deported.

Immigrant rights activists call that a threat. "People can and should be released while they await for their asylum or deportation cases to proceed, so that they can be united with their families and more readily access legal counsel," IM4HI said in a statement. "It is unnecessary for immigrants to be detained when humane, cost-effective alternatives exist."

"Our ultimate victory is an end to immigration detention, not merely the closure of one facility," the statement continued. "Victory will be the full release, not transfer, of ICE detainees and the return of those who have already been transferred out of state."

Meanwhile, many people detained by ICE are taken to the sprawling, 2,000-person Adelanto ICE Processing Center in San Bernardino County, California. Since it opened in 2011, more than 73,000 migrants have been incarcerated there for at least some period. Five detainees have tried to commit suicide, three others have died, and detainees have mounted several hunger strikes in protest of terrible conditions. Adelanto is run by the Geo Group, Inc., which was formerly the Wackenhut security firm, and originally began as the Pinkerton anti-labor detective agency a century ago. ICE pays Geo $112 per day per detainee.

"While it's a victory that we were able to get the contract canceled in Contra Costa County," Lee warns, "there's a great danger that we'll see even more private prisons. We have to keep up the pressure, especially on places like Adelanto."

After hearing the news of the impending closure of the immigrant detention center, the families of a dozen detainees and their supporters held a rally outside. Many broke into tears as they talked about the pain of separation, and their fears that they might not see their husbands or fathers if they're transferred far away. They called on ICE to release the detainees on bond, or with an electronic ankle bracelet that allows ICE to monitor their whereabouts.

Dianeth said that she could live with the humiliation of the monitoring, or even paying thousands of dollars, if ICE would bring her husband back from Colorado and free him. "We want freedom for all the people who are detained," she told the crowd in a trembling voice. "We want freedom so they all can come home."

Soledad comforts her daughter, crying because she fears that if they transfer her father she won't see him again.

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.