NOW Vice President-Action Elizabeth Toledo helped organize support for strawberry workers. Photo by Beth Corbin.
by Marquita Sykes, Staff Writer, and Malvika Gupta, NOW Intern
The United Farm Workers campaign for workplace rights for thousands of strawberry pickers continues nationwide with positive results.
NOW joined with more than 30 progressive organizations in launching the Strawberry Workers Campaign last fall to protest deplorable working and living conditions, low wages, sex discrimination and harassment involving more than 20,000 strawberry pickers. It calls for workers' five basic rights, including a living wage, clean drinking water and bathrooms, health insurance, job security and an end to sexual harassment.
At the Strawberry Workers' March in Watsonville, Calif., April 13,UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez told a crowd of 30,000 people, "This is the biggest farm worker march ever. This is the largest event supporting an organizing campaign in the history of the American labor movement."
Joining Rodriguez and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney were a host of national organizational leaders including Rainbow/PUSH President Rev. Jesse Jackson, Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal and Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope.
NOW members from the California chapters of Contra Costa, Lompoc, San Jose and Tri-Valley participated in the march alongside other women's rights, civil rights, environmental, lesbian and gay, and labor activists.
"This march has launched a major campaign to end the harassment and abuse endured by strawberry workers. NOW is an important part of a coalition that will force employers to respect human rights and civil rights in the workplace," said NOW Vice President-Action Elizabeth Toledo.
Grocery chains representing more than 3,000 stores, including American Stores, A&P and Ralph's, have pledged their support for workers' basic rights. The UFW recently reached an agreement with the nation's third largest produce cooler and grower, Coastal Berry Farms, allowing workers to organize for a union of their choice, free from interference and intimidation.
Encouraged by the progress, the campaign continues. Workers are pressuring growers to comply with proper warning procedures regarding exposure to cancer-causing pesticides. Many workers are fighting for overtime pay, while others have been fired for speaking out about poor working conditions.
In particular, many workers at farms that ship berries through Driscoll, one of the industry's largest cooler/shippers, are struggling to deal with allegations of sex discrimination. To demand respect for workers' rights, activists can call the president of Driscoll Strawberry Associates, Ken Moreno, at 408-761-5995.
For more information about how to get involved with the campaign, visit NOW's Web site at http://www.now.org/issues/economic/strawberry/ or contact Loretta Kane at the NOW Action Center 202-331-0066, ext. 729.