Better Working Conditions Promised To Striking Baja California Farmworkers
Two months into a strike by Baja California farmworkers, the Mexican government has promised significant improvements in their working conditions, and gave preliminary approval of a wage increase.
At the end of an 18-hour meeting Wednesday, federal and state officials signed an agreement in Ensenada, guaranteeing everything from social security to formal union status for the workers. Officials said if growers can't meet farmworkers' demands of a wage increase from about 120 pesos ($8) a day to 200 pesos ($13) a day, the federal government will make up the difference.
But that doesn't mean it will happen. The federal government recently announced spending cuts of about $8 billion for this year, plus an expected $9 billion for next year to deal with plummeting oil prices. A labor ministry official speaking on condition of anonymity said paying the shortfall in wages would be "a last resort" for the federal government, and that it will work with growers and farmworkers to find another solution.
Justino Herrera, spokesman for the farmworker group, said he understood the wage issue this way: “If (the growers) say they’ll pay 180 pesos, the federal government will pay the other 20 pesos.”
The farmworkers pick berries, tomatoes and cucumbers in an agricultural valley called San Quintin, about 200 miles south of the border. Most of the produce that grows along this 50-mile stretch is shipped to the U.S., including San Diego. The workers are organized under a group called Alianza de Organizaciones Nacional, Estatal y Municipal Por La Justicia Social.
In the past, state officials have downplayed the impact of the group, saying they constitute only 10 percent of the total workforce in San Quintin. Herrera said the group represents everyone who harvests crops in the valley, about 70,000 people.
“They can now get the treatment they deserve as the people, as the human beings, as the Mexicans they are,” he said in response to the promised benefits.
These are some highlights of the agreement, according to a state government press release:
• Mexican Social Security benefits for farmworkers.
• No withholding of wages.
• Resolution of problems with housing, food and hygiene/safety.
• Respect for labor rights of women and their families, and inspections to ensure it.
• Companies must certify they do not use child labor.
• Creation of a trust fund for community development projects.
• Review of social programs to make sure farmworkers don’t lose benefits because of their migrant status.
• Recognition of Alianza de Organizaciones Nacionales Estatal y Municipal Por La Justicia Social as a formal union.
• A meeting between the group's leaders and the state governor.
The agreement with government officials came days after a violent clash between protesting farmworkers and police left dozens injured over the weekend. The two sides will meet again on June 4, and the government statement said the question of pay will be settled then.
In late March, growers agreed to increase daily wages by 15%, which amounts to about $1. But the Alianza remained unsatisfied.
The well-known berry brand Driscoll’s gets a bulk of its berries from the region. One of its biggest suppliers, BerryMex, agreed to increase wages by 40% near the beginning of the strike, benefiting about 4,000 workers. But that's still not as high as the Alianza is demanding.
In a statement, Driscoll's said: "We are proud that BerryMex, one of our most trusted growers, proactively provided its workers among the highest wages and earning potential in the region, combined with some of the region's best housing options and access to unique medical programs."