On the picket line

Immigrant kale pickers win in N.C.

When bosses at Teachey Produce in Rose Hill, N.C., started abusing the immigrant pickers in the kale fields, the mostly Mexican workers fought back. In early 2016, the bosses started cruelly withholding ice from water the workers need to stay hydrated in the hot sun. Then they stopped supplying the water. That brought the workers to the point of exhaustion, and sent one worker to the hospital with heat stroke. With no insurance, he was stuck with an $8,000 bill, the equivalent of earnings during one picking season. The bosses refused to help.

Then the Teacheys began withholding $25 per barrel from the workers’ paychecks. Why? The workers were told they weren’t picking the kale properly! That’s when they began attending monthly community meetings of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, a Latinx, immigrant-run organization defending farm workers in the South since 1967. Not only has FLOC won a union contract with the North Carolina Growers Association, it now represents more than 10,000 H-2A guest workers in the state.

When FLOC approached Teachey with the workers’ grievances, the bosses ignored them. When FLOC hired a lawyer, the workers filed a class-action lawsuit alleging violations of wage and hour protections, safety laws and retaliation for speaking out. In mid-May, the workers won $60,000 in payback for their medical expenses, stolen wages, retaliation claims and safety issues. (paydayreport.com, May 25) That proves, even during the Trump era, when Mexican farm workers organize, they can beat back the bosses!

Support immigrant farm workers’ rights!

The Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017, introduced in Congress in May by California lawmakers, is supported by the United Farm Workers. A study by the University of California, Davis, shows that about 70 percent of all U.S. farm workers are undocumented. If they are deported, based on Trump’s directives to Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, that would totally disrupt agricultural production in the U.S., causing shortages and price hikes to the public. The stated goal of the AWPA is to protect farm workers from deportation, put them on a pathway to legalization and citizenship, and help ensure a stable, legal agricultural workforce to benefit farm workers, employers and the public. (ufw.org, May 25)

While aspects of the bill are deeply flawed, it exposes how integral undocumented immigrant workers are to the U.S. economy and lifestyle. These workers should be respected and protected, not scapegoated. Sign UFW petition supporting bill at tinyurl.com/ybxnvyl8/.

Telecom workers secure contracts from coast to coast

Members of the Communication Workers won decent contracts in the West and the East in early June. Their three-day strike in 36 states in mid-May definitely helped! In CWA’s District 9, DIRECTV West workers won their first-ever contract! Those 2,200 workers and 17,000 AT&T West workers won a four-year settlement, now up for ratification by members, which includes pay raises and improvements in job security, retirement benefits, affordable health care and more.

The CWA District 1 bargaining team also scored a four-year agreement with AT&T East covering 200 workers in Connecticut Local 1298. The union’s bargaining committee noted that AT&T, like all bosses, demanded concessions in health care and benefits at the workers’ expense. (cwa-union.org, June 8) We say not only should good health care and benefits be the norm for unionized workers, but they should be the right of every worker!

NYC retail workers win demands

While retail workers are facing layoffs all across the country (Workers World, April 25), 2,000 members of Local 3 of the Department Store Union (RWDSU-UFCW), who sell high-priced merchandise at Bloomingdale’s flagship store in New York City, won a landmark contract on May 1. It was immediately ratified by 88 percent of the voting membership.

The four-year contract recognized that most sales workers paid solely based on in-store sales commissions have been struggling financially since 2012 (wages cut by 20 percent to 30 percent) when they were required to do nonsales online tasks with no extra pay. Now workers will no longer be required to handle order fulfillments or other nonsales duties or to leave their departments when there is a potential sales opportunity. The workers also won general wage hikes and bonus payments, increased company funding for medical and sick day benefits, and protections for immigrant and worker safety and security. (rwdsu.org, May 1)