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January 2002, Volume 8, Number 1

Northwest: Teamsters Concede

Teamsters Local 760 of Yakima, Washington told the National Labor Relations Board in December 2001 that it would not seek to represent workers at the Stemilt Growers, the state's largest packinghouse, or Yakima Fruit and Cold Storage. The Teamsters gained the right to represent workers at Stemilt in October 1999, after a three-year organizing campaign, but Stemilt workers later launched a decertification campaign.

The Teamsters disclaimer of interest means that the decertification vote will not be necessary. The Teamsters lost a 1998 vote at a third packinghouse, Washington Fruit and Produce in Yakima.

Stemilt, a $150-million, family-run corporation, spent more than $1 million on lawyers and consultants to block the unionization drive. Stemilt packs about 8.5 million boxes of apples a year from 20,000 acres of orchards that it owns or from which it buys apples. Stemilt pays an average $9.50 an hour, and provides medical, dental and vision benefits, paid vacations and holidays, and a 401(k) retirement plan with a company match on the first two percent of savings.

The Teamsters and the UFW launched a joint Apple Campaign in 1996, when the value of the Washington apple industry was $1 billion. The Teamsters aimed to organize15,000 packinghouse workers, and the UFW targeted 35,000 orchard workers. AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney in 1997 cited the UFW-Teamster apple campaign as an example of the new unionism that will add members and strength to US unions.

Apple production has not been very profitable for Washington growers- growers lost about $750 million between 1998 and 2000, and the federal government provided $138 million in payments to apple producers. In December 2000, growers were receiving an average price of $13.08 for a 42-pound box of apples, but their costs of production were estimated to be $13.23. The 2001 crop was estimated to be 98 million boxes; many apples were not picked because of low prices. At least six fruit packing houses, each employing 50 to 600 people, closed in 2001, prompting some farm workers to move over the Cascade mountains and into cities such as Seattle in search of jobs.

The UFW in April 2001 announced that it would help the apple industry with a Fair Apple Campaign, urging consumers to eat more Washington apples, and urging Mexico to import more Washington apples.

Farm workers picketed the state Department of Labor and Industries to protest the administration of the state workers compensation system. The demonstration, organized by the UFW, included workers who alleged that doctors ordered them back to work before they had recovered from their injuries.

Oregon. The Northwest Tree Planters and Farmworkers United (PCUN) of Woodburn is calling for a boycott of Norpac Foods, a Stayton-based vegetable packer. The Oregon Farm Bureau says it would support a state collective bargaining law if it prohibited boycotts and work stoppages during harvests.

The Oregon Senate's Task Force on Farm Workers met in November 2001 to hear testimony from workers and employers.

Catholic Charities and Community and Shelter Assistance Corp of Oregon are planning a $7 million housing project for 30 migrant workers and 24 year-round workers at 40747 S.E. U.S. 26, near Vista Loop Road. The project is similar to the 26-unit Casa Verde town house complex that opened last year in Canby. Since CASA was founded in 1988, it has developed 19 housing projects for farm worker families that provide housing for about 3,000 people.

Idaho. Beginning January 1, 2002, almost all Idaho farm workers must be paid the federal minimum wage, $5.15 an hour; previously, only 60 percent of the 15,000 to 33,000 seasonal workers in the state were covered by the minimum wage under federal rules.

The 16 directors of the Idaho Migrant Council ousted executive director Humberto Fuentes in October 2001, and named Sam Byrd as acting executive director. The IMC operates housing complexes at Blackfoot, Dubois, Hammett, Heyburn, American Falls and two in Twin Falls.

Colorado. Pueblo County commissioners gave $45,000 to the nonprofit Posada organization to purchase 37 acres of land off 57th Lane to buy land for 42 single-family cottages on eight acres. There are an estimated 750 farm workers in the county.

Lynda V. Mapes, "Unionizing of apple workers unravels," Seattle Times, December 8, 2001. "Hard times on the farm force field workers into the city," AP, October 13, 2001.