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April 2003, Volume 9, Number 2


Oregon. The Oregon Farm Bureau has a bill in the Legislature, HB 2351, that would grant farm workers collective bargaining rights, but the Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United (PCUN in Spanish) opposes it because one of the bill's provisions establishes a 19-day time frame for the state-supervised election to decide whether workers want to be represented by a union. According to PCUN, this is too long, since the strawberry picking season can be only 15 days long.

The bill would require unions to give 10-day notices before striking, and prohibit boycotts of farm products. During the 1990s, PCUN led a national boycott of Norpac Foods, Oregon's largest food-processing cooperative with 250 farmer-members. In February 2002, Norpac agreed to talks and the union called off its boycott, but talks since then failed to reach any agreements.

A comparable bill passed during a 2002 special session but was vetoed by then-Governor John Kitzhaber.

Washington County Housing Authority officials have proposed purchasing Campo Azul and 133 acres for $795,000. Campo Azul is a 52-cabin farm labor camp notorious for health and safety violations that the owners have offered for sale. Camp residents were charged $100 a month. If the housing authority were to take over, it would replace the cabins with steel bunkhouses for 200 workers.

Several officials and migrant advocates said that, instead of buying the rundown farm labor camp, housing should be created for farm workers in urban areas.

Washington. A state-subsidized camp for migrant farm workers cost $496,639 in 2002, but sometimes housed fewer than 20 people a day and generated only $33,400 in rent. From early June through early November, about 10,000 migrants stayed at the Wenatchee River County Park, most of them during the three-week cherry harvest. In 2000 and 2001, the camp was opened only for the cherry harvest.

The state of Washington has experimented with using refurbished shipping containers to house migrants. Shipping containers are also being used as housing elsewhere. In Kabul, Afghanistan, the US Embassy had about 100 of the 17-foot-long by 8-foot-wide shipping containers that were used as housing for one to eight people in 2003. Shipping containers are cheap-new ones sell for less than $2,500 each.

The Northwest Area Foundation in 2001 pledged $15 million to reduce poverty in the Yakima Valley, which has an estimated 31,000 seasonal farm workers. The pledge was conditional on area residents agreeing on a plan to spend the money to reduce poverty. In August 2002, the NAF said that there had not been enough local agreement on an anti-poverty plan and rescinded the $15 million pledge. Several of those who worked on the plan sued the foundation, alleging broken promises, and emphasizing that poor residents sacrificed to engage in foundation-mandated planning efforts.

The NAF, with $425 million in assets, has pledged $150 million to finance grass-roots plans to reduce poverty in 16 communities in the eight states it serves: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. So far, only two plans have been financed, in relatively homogeneous areas of Oregon and South Dakota. Critics say the NAF is most comfortable with small-farm poverty among whites, and not with the poverty associated with hired workers that can lead to conflicts with employers.

The Yakima valley is often divided into three areas: the north includes most business leaders, the middle is dominated by the Yakama Nation, an Indian tribe that is the largest landowner in Yakima County, and the lower valley, centered around Sunnyside, includes many of the county's 79,000 Hispanics.

A federal judge in April 2003 ruled that the $0.25 per 42-pound box assessment collected to promote Washington apples was unlawful. Washington produced 86 million boxes of apples in 2002.

Utah. Heber City is home for many of the service workers employed in Park City-area ski resorts, and cooperation between the Heber Police Department and INS in Fall 2002 led to tensions, as advocates accused local leaders of being anti-Hispanic; 24 unauthorized foreigners were arrested.

Peter Prengaman, "Bargaining bill dismays farmworkers," AP, April 15, 2003. Stephanie Strom, "A Withdrawn Aid Offer Leaves Washington State's Yakima Bruised," New York Times, March 6, 2003.

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