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Baja California Strike Winds Down; Strawberry Harvest Impacted

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Most Baja California farmworkers protesting low wages have returned to the fields after growers in the San Quintin valley offered them a 15 percent wage increase, but strawberry output is expected to drop.

UPDATE: April 1, 2015 at 12:37 p.m.

A protest in the border town of Mexicali more than doubled Wednesday to about 500 people as some Baja California farmworkers are not satisfied with a 15% raise growers gave them last week.

Growers say they can’t increase wages further, but state Agriculture Minister Manuel Valladolid Seamanduras said the state government is pushing to improve working conditions for the farmers.

“We’re going to increase the number of companies with social responsibility certifications,” he said in a telephone interview.

Social responsibility certifications require companies to meet certain regulations that benefit communities where they’re based.

Agricultural production has returned to normal as most workers have returned to the fields, but strawberry output – most of which is shipped to the U.S. – was slashed in half during the two week strike. This is likely to impact California consumers.

“Anyone who produces strawberries in San Quintin is looking to export to markets in California and the rest of the U.S.,” Valladolid Seamanduras added.

Original post:

Thousands of Baja California farmworkers who were on strike for nearly two weeks are harvesting crops again after growers agreed to increase wages by 15 percent.

Strawberry shipments to the U.S. are expected to be hindered due to the slowdown.

The farmworkers harvest strawberries, cucumbers and tomatoes in the agricultural valley of San Quintin, which ships most of its produce across the border to the U.S.

For days, the laborers refused to work as they negotiated with government and industry officials about their low wages and working conditions. Growers say half of the San Quintin strawberries that were supposed to be harvested this season rotted in the fields as a result of the strike.

The value of agricultural production in San Quintin is around $450 million a year, roughly half of the total in Baja California, according to the state government. Between 80 and 90 percent of the region's crops go to the United States. The berry supplier and well-known brand Driscoll's owns BerryMex, one of the biggest growers in San Quintin.

Government and industry officials say the damage to crops amounts to tens of millions of dollars.

The general secretary for the state government, Francisco Rueda Gomez, estimates total economic losses at $40 million, including harm to the state tourism industry and other commercial activities.

The Baja California Agricultural Council, which represents the growers in the region who agreed to the wage hike, estimates the damage to agricultural supply chains at $80 million to $90 million, according to council spokesperson Marco Antonio Estudillo Bernal.

Over the weekend, about 200 farmworkers traveled north from San Quintin to protest in Ensenada and Tijuana, demanding that daily wages double to 200 pesos, or around $13. They were unsatisfied with the 15 percent increase. But growers say those demands were unreasonable.

“Those amounts are not viable. They’re impossible,” said Estudillo Bernal.

The daily minimum wage in Mexico is 70 pesos, less than $5. At first, protestors were demanding 300 pesos a day, or about $20. Most have settled for the 15 percent wage increase, or about $1 more, and will bring their wage to approximately $8 a day.

On Monday, the group of traveling protestors headed to Mexicali, where their numbers dwindled to about 50 on Tuesday.

The National Commission of Human Rights is investigating alleged workplace abuses such as sexual harassment and child labor.

Most of the protestors were migrant farm laborers from southern Mexican states such as Oaxaca and Chiapas, some of the poorest in the country.

These roughly 1,800 farmworkers follow harvests across Mexico. About 18,000 formal workers in San Quintin live in the region and already receive benefits such as healthcare and social security.

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