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Farmworker March for Dignity

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Marchers take part in the Farmworker March for Dignity 2019, on August 4, 2019, in Whatcom County, Washington.  David Bacon

Washington State today is ground zero in the effort to hold back the massive use of agricultural guest workers by U.S. growers, and to ensure that farmworkers, both those living here and those coming under the H-2A visa program, have their rights respected. For a second year, on August 4 workers and their supporters marched 14 miles in 90-degree heat through berry fields just below the Canadian border, protesting what they charge is widespread abuse of agricultural labor.

“Farmworker families have been living and working in local fields since the early 1950s,” according to Rosalinda Guillen, director of Community to Community, a farm worker organizing and advocacy group in Whatcom County. “But we’ve seen a big increase in growers’ use of the H-2A guest worker program in the last few years, and it’s had a huge impact on working conditions in the fields. We’ve had to feed guest workers who come to us hungry, fight to get them paid their wages, and help them deal with extreme work requirements. At the same time, our local workers find they’re not being hired for jobs they’ve done for many seasons.”

At dawn on August 4, two hundred marchers gathered in front of the immigration detention center in Ferndale, about three hours north of Seattle. Before starting the 14-mile peregrination, Guillen told the crowd that most of the immigrants detained there, and later deported, are farmworkers. “The Trump administration is targeting our local community, deporting people who have been living here for years,” she charged. “Then growers complain there aren’t enough workers, and begin using the H-2A program to bring in guest workers. It is a vicious revolving door of exploitation.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s National Agricultural Workers Survey, there are about 2.5 million farmworkers in the U.S., about three quarters of whom were born outside the country. Half are undocumented and the rest are visa holders or people born in the U.S.

Last year growers were certified to bring in 242,762 H-2A workers – a tenth of the total workforce and a number that in just four years has increased from 139,832.

In 2017, Washington State 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 predict growers will request more than 30,000 H-2A workers during 2019,” according to Washington Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine.

The department estimated that 97,068 farm workers were employed in Washington State in 2016, so the projected number of H-2A workers would be a third of the entire workforce.

At the same time as H-2A employment is rising, deportations are increasing. The Trump administration deported 256,000 people in 2018, just slightly more than the number of people brought to the U.S. under H-2A visas. Local deportations are increasing as well in Washington. In August last year 16 people were arrested and held at the Ferndale center. Half were deported immediately, and others were charged bail as high as $18,000 to be released pending hearings. A month earlier 19 others had also been arrested for deportation.

Stories are common, according to C2C, of people stopped for traffic violations, and then held for detention by immigration authorities. In 2017, Gov. Jay Inslee signed an executive order barring state agents from helping to enforce federal immigration laws in most cases, ordering them not to ask about immigration status. Nevertheless, immigration detention centers are scattered around the state, including one of the nation’s largest in Tacoma, three hours south of Whatcom County, where the GEO Group holds around 1500 people.

Protesting Exploitation at Crystal View Raspberry Farm

After leaving the Ferndale detention center, people walked north for four hours, arriving at the Crystal View Raspberry Farm. There they stopped to hold an informal hearing to highlight the decision by the farm’s owners to bring in 80 guest workers for this year’s blueberry harvest.

Growers recruit H-2A workers every year from other countries, mainly Mexico. Companies using the H-2A program must apply to the U.S. Department of Labor, listing the work, living conditions and 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.

The H-2A program has its roots in the notorious “bracero” program, which brought workers from Mexico in extremely exploitative conditions starting in 1942. At its height in 1954 about 450,000 workers were brought in by growers, and in the same year over a million people were deported – the same “vicious revolving door” described by Guillen. Although the program was abolished in 1964, the H-2 visa on which it was based was never eliminated. In 1986 an organized farm labor importation program began again, and the H-2A visa was created. It has been growing ever since.

In August last year, about 60 Crystal View workers, brought from Mexico and Guatemala under H-2A visas, went on strike to protest the non-payment of their wages. They reached out to Community to Community (C2C) and Washington’s new farm worker union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia, looking for help. Workers told C2C organizer Edgar Franks they’d been threatened that if they didn’t work fast enough they’d be fired and sent back home. “They didn’t feel safe reaching out to anyone because of the threats,” he said. Workers were isolated because they lived on the farm property, miles from the nearest town, and had no cars or transportation of their own.

Crystal View owner George Sandhu brought in two representatives of WAFLA, which had contracted the workers, to negotiate. The strikers were eventually paid the money owed them and returned to work after two days. “But I don’t think those workers will be coming back this year,” Franks predicted.

The problem of high production standards, enforced by blacklisting threats, was highlighted by several recent strikes over the past two years. On June 21 this year workers at the King Fuji apple ranch stopped work because of production pressure. According to one striker, Sergio Martinez, “We’re all working as fast as we can, but the company always wants more. When we can’t make the production they’re demanding, they threaten us, telling us that if we don’t produce they won’t let us come back to work next year.”

Pressure to work harder and faster is permitted by the U.S. Department of Labor, often written into the certifications that allow growers to import workers. The job order approved for King Fuji Ranch, Inc. lists the first reason why a worker can be fired: “malingers or otherwise refuses without justified cause to perform as directed the work for which the worker was recruited and hired.” If a worker’s productivity doesn’t improve after “coaching” then “the Worker may be terminated.”


ICE off our Buses: End Greyhound Collaboration with ICE!

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Everyday across the U.S., ICE, DHS and Border Patrol agents board buses with Greyhound’s permission and attempt to detain migrants. We demand Greyhound end all collaboration with ICE and Border Patrol. Greyhound is NOT required to allow immigration agents onto it’s buses and should stop all collaboration immediately. Buses are for transportation, not deportation!

To bus passengers & drivers:
ICE, DHS and Border Patrol agents have NO RIGHT to board buses & ask about immigration status. If agents board your bus, It’s OK to speak up for yourself and others, if you feel safe.
You can say: “ICE has no right to do this! ICE has no warrants! You don’t have to show your ID.”

Burgerville Workers at Three Stores Go on Strike over Bad Faith Bargaining

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

08.09.2019

Contact: Emmett Schlenz, 401-855-9440, emmett.schlenz@gmail.com

Burgerville Workers at Three Stores Go on Strike over Bad Faith Bargaining 

PORTLAND, OR: Today, on Friday August 9, the Burgerville Workers Union (BVWU) went on strike at three stores to demand that Burgerville bargain with the Union in good faith and present workers with a serious proposal for higher wages. In a coordinated action, over 50 workers from the Hawthorne, 92nd & Powell, and Montavilla Burgerville locations went on strike today. This comes after months without a new wage proposal from Burgerville, and after the BVWU filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against Burgerville for bad faith bargaining. Workers will return to work tomorrow.

The BVWU has been in contract negotiations with Burgerville for over a year. In that time, the only wage proposal Burgerville has brought to the bargaining table is a $0.13/hr raise, which they presented five months ago. The BVWU found this proposal unacceptable, because it comes nowhere close to meeting workers’ demands for a living wage—a $5 raise for all hourly workers by the end of the three year contract, and for new hires to start at $15/hour immediately.

Right now, Burgerville pays many employees poverty wages, meaning that workers don’t make enough to maintain a decent standard of living. “When Burgerville workers have to choose between paying rent and paying for groceries, something’s wrong,” said Emmett Schlenz, a Hawthorne worker who participated in the strike. “They [Burgerville corporate] should be ashamed of themselves for fighting to keep people in poverty.” 

Since this spring, Burgerville has repeatedly promised to bring workers a better wage proposal and then failed to do so, breaking their promises and missing deadlines they set themselves. “They’ve been stringing us along for months,” said Drew Edmonds, a worker at the Montavilla Burgerville who went on strike. “They don’t want to talk to us, they don’t want to work with us, and now they won’t come to the bargaining table at all.”

This past Wednesday August 7, Burgerville was scheduled to meet with the BVWU for a contract negotiations session, and bring a new wage proposal. On Tuesday, Burgerville told the Union that they would not be meeting for bargaining the next day, because of the possibility of a strike on Wednesday. Burgerville specifically cited that General Managers would not be able to attend bargaining, because they would have to be present at their stores to handle potential strikes. The BVWU upholds that some General Managers regularly miss bargaining sessions, and this is an inadequate reason to justify once again pushing back contract negotiations.

Delaying the bargaining session has very immediate impacts on workers like Betty Buchanan from the Montavilla Burgerville, who can’t afford to keep waiting for a raise. Buchanan said, I’ve had to sell the only thing I had left from my dad before he passed away, just to put food on the table. I’m going on strike because they keep stalling and we need a raise and fair contract now.Mark Medina, a striking worker from 92nd & Powell, stated that “Every month the company refuses to move forward towards a good contract, every month they make excuses, is a month working families have to do without.”

On Wednesday, the BVWU filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, stating that Burgerville’s decision to postpone a contract negotiations session on the basis of a potential strike constitutes bargaining in bad faith. According to Mark Medina, Burgerville corporate’s reasoning for pushing back the bargaining session doesn’t hold because “Any day the company refuses to bargain in good faith by bringing real proposals, is a potential strike day, regardless if that’s next week, next month, or next year.”

This morning, Burgerville workers from the Hawthorne, 92nd & Powell, and Montavilla stores went on strike to show Burgerville Corporate that they will not tolerate any more delays in negotiating over wages. “We’re on strike because this kind of behavior can’t stand,” said Nathan Iles-Pride, a worker from the Hawthorne Burgerville. “Bad faith bargaining, dragging their feet on the wage issue, refusing to negotiate—this is unacceptable. We have been fighting for years and it’s about time we see real results.”

The BVWU has won elections at five Burgerville stores and is the largest fast food workers union in U.S. history. Workers have been fighting for years for fair wages, an end to Burgerville’s voluntary collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), affordable health care, and improved working conditions. Burgerville corporate has sought to block Union demands at every opportunity and gone back on policies agreed to at the bargaining table. Corporate has also engaged in illegal activities, such as changing policies at stores involved in bargaining without first consulting the Union. Until a fair contract is negotiated, the BVWU continues to call for a boycott of all Burgerville locations. 

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ILRF is hiring

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The International Labor Rights Forum is hiring, for the Legal & Policy Director and Communications Coordinator positions. The International Labor Rights Forum is a human rights organization that advocates for dignity and justice for workers in the global economy. We hold global corporations accountable for labor rights violations in their supply chains; we advance policies and laws that protect workers; and we strengthen workers’ ability to advocate for their rights. More information about ILRF is available at www.LaborRights.org.

Apply https://laborrights.org/join-our-team


Job Opening: Communications Coordinator

The Communications Coordinator will work across the organization to develop ILRF’s organization-wide communications strategy and to strengthen ILRF’s campaigns, policy advocacy, and alliances. The Communications Coordinator will carry out public campaign advocacy for workers’ rights, particularly as it relates to labor rights in globally-traded supply chains, such as agricultural commodities, apparel, and the seafood industry. Responsibilities include communications strategy development, coalition building and networking, responding to urgent action requests, supporting ILRF’s communications needs, and fundraising. This job is an excellent opportunity to grow your understanding of global supply chain campaigns, trade policy, and international labor rights advocacy.


Job Opening: Administrative Assistant

The Administrative Assistant will report to the Director of Finance and Administration, and play an integral role in the organization’s operations and fundraising, working closely with other staff to strengthen ILRF’s engagement with supporters and activists. Responsibilities include coordinating logistics and fundraising for ILRF’s annual gala, database administration and maintenance, cultivating individual donor relationships, supporting the Executive Director with scheduling and engagement with board members, and other finance and administrative duties. This job is an excellent entrée into understanding nonprofit management and an overall perspective on ILRF’s full range of labor rights advocacy.

Ways to Help Immigrant Workers Detained in Mississippi

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Here are ways to support the 680 immigrant food workers who were detained in the ICE raids in Mississippi on August 7.

  1. Donate to the UFCW Local 1529 Strike and Emergency Fund. The union represents workers at 2 of the plants where the ICE raids took place. The local’s fund is providing workers with financial support to pay for rent, food, and other basic needs. Send a check to UFCW Local 1529 Strike and Emergency Fund, Memo: MS Raids, UFCW Local 1529, 8205 Macon Road, Cordova, TN 38018. 
  2. Volunteer your time and skills. The Southeast Immigrant Rights Network is coordinating solidarity on the ground in Mississippi.They’re looking for people and groups to volunteer in various ways, including from afar, especially if you speak Spanish or indigenous languages, as well as people who can travel to Mississippi. Click here to fill out the form letting them know how you can help.
  3. Provide legal assistance. If you’re an attorney and may be able to help, the Mississippi Center for Justice wants to hear from you. Click here to fill out their form.
  4. Join a local immigrant rights group / support a local immigrant workers center in your area and participate in local protests against ICE.

Support Grocery Workers – One job should be enough

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Support grocery workers, not Wall Street
Corporate grocery stores are making record profits but refuse to provide workers enough pay or hours to support themselves or their families. Sign this petition to support grocery workers!

Nobody should work 2 or 3 jobs and not be able to afford housing, food, and basic healthcare. Especially when the CEO of Ralphs-Kroger Co. makes 547 times what the average worker earns in a year. As shoppers, let’s join together with workers to fight for what’s fair.

FCWA Statement on Farmworkers bill in NY State

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New York farmworkers won important new legal rights this week after a decades-long fight against their exclusion from basic labor laws. The Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act extends collective bargaining rights to farm workers, including card check certification, and improves access to overtime, a guaranteed day of rest, workers compensation, unemployment insurance, and other benefits. California and Washington are the only other two states who protect farmworkers’ right to organize and collectively bargain. This is a significant win for New York State farmworkers, and we want to congratulate all those who fought for these rights over the past two decades. 

However, the final version of the act is weakened by certain provisions and exclusions including banning strikes, work stoppages, or slowdowns, and even refers to strikes, stoppages and slowdowns as “unfair labor practices”, that could be punishable under New York labor law. 

As an alliance that represents close to 400,000 food workers throughout the food economy, we know that much of the power that workers have lies in the right to strike. This fundamental right levels the playing field for workers, especially in workplaces with enormous power imbalances like farms. 

We are highly concerned that banning the strike and deeming strike activity as ‘unfair labor practice’ will set a legislative precedent for other states and other industries to strip workers of this indispensable right. Furthermore, we see inherent racism in prohibiting farmworkers, the majority of whom are workers of color, from striking, when the majority of private sector workers enjoy this right. Farmworkers need the ability to organize on their farms in the way they choose without fear of retaliation, and the legislation should be strengthened to include those protections. 

We also see the decision to set a different overtime threshold for farm workers as inherently unequal. Farmworkers are expected to exceed 60 hours before being given overtime pay as opposed to the long established 40 hours. Additionally, the amended bill ends employer contributions for unemployment insurance for guestworkers, a step backwards in ensuring equal protection for guestworkers in New York State. 

We hope that this bill sets the stage to achieve full rights and protections for all farmworkers and can be expanded and strengthened in the near future. 

We are proud to stand with our farmworker members and their allies who have been organizing on their farms and in their communities for dignity on the job and equal rights and protections. We hope the new tools this bill provides will strengthen and multiply those fights.
We believe that in order to end gender-based violence it is essential to empower women and to guarantee their rights and bring about their emancipation. This is why the women and men of La Via Campesina, in a single expression of struggle and liberation, are saying today: For the life and dignity of women, we fight together against exploitation and oppression!
Check out this video about LaViaCampesina!Click Here!

Happy International Women’s Day from the Farmworker Association of Florida! 

It’s International Migrants Day!

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Solidarity with immigrants is a core value of the FCWA. As such, our members asked how could we collectively support the caravan of Central American migrants who are seeking asylum in the United States but are stuck in Mexico as the Trump administration refuses to process their asylum applications in a timely manner.

We partnered with DREAM Team LA to collect donations and organize a delegation to deliver supplies to the migrants waiting across the border. Each of our organizations contributed funds, and we also fundraised from supporters and member groups. With over $700, we bought new t-shirts and toiletries and created 100 care packages. We also collected donations of used clothing, toys, books, and shoes from community members in Los Angeles.

On December 9, 2018, our delegation drove down to the border. Our Co-Director Joann Lo, her two children, and our intern Kayla Jaspeado took a van full of donations to a migrant camp that had been rained out of Benito Juarez park in Tijuana–their tents displaced from the park onto the street. Even under difficult conditions, the people in this camp are doing what they can to collaborate as a community. They cook together and work together to keep the camp clean and safe.

Thank you to everyone who donated money or clothes and other items for the migrants!We especially thank our Communications Associate Jose Lopez for taking the lead on our behalf to organize the collection of donations and putting together the care packages.

We are organizing another delivery of food on December 26. If you would like to donate to help us buy food for the migrants, click here. Thank you!

UFCW Local 770 and Overhil Farms Workers

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Currently our member organization, United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 770, has an active campaign at Overhill Farms. This fight began in 2009 when Overhill Farms unjustly fired 254 workers claiming “irregularities with their documentation,” and almost 10 years later the fight continues as Overhill Farms continues to deny workers the respect and dignity they deserve. Overhill Farms Workers continue to stand strong and united, fighting for a fair union contract with the support of UFCW Local 770, despite the company’s countless attempts to intimidate them.UFCW 770’s Bargaining Committee Members have been negotiating with Overhill Farms on behalf of 400 packinghouse employees working at two plants in Vernon, California. Unfortunately, Overhill Farms has failed to agree to a fair union contract for Overhill Farms workers which we know means livable wages, affordable health care, respect, and dignity on the job.

After receiving yet another bad contract proposal, UFCW Overhill farm workers have voted to authorize a strike. Stand in solidarity with the 400 Overhill Farms’ Union Employees strike and stand up to Overhill Farms! Get the latest updates and find how you can plug in or support the Overhill Farm Workers’ Campaign by following their Facebook page @OverhillFarmsWorkers.

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