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July 2002, Volume 8, Number 3

Northwest: Oregon, Washington, Colorado

Sodexho, a Norpac food-service client based in Maryland, pushed the 240-member farmer's cooperative into negotiating with Oregon's only farm-labor union, the Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United union (PCUN in Spanish) to end a decade-long boycott. PCUN suspended the boycott in February 2002 and began negotiations. In May 2002, Norpac announced that 21 of its grower-members would allow PCUN to organize workers on their farms.


The Oregon legislature approved House Bill 4025 on farm labor unions in March 2002, favored by farmers but opposed by PCUN because it outlawed secondary boycotts. It was vetoed by the governor, who said it deserved more scrutiny. Oregon's minimum wage is $6.50 an hour.


Woodburn, a city about one hour southeast of Portland in the Willamette Valley, has been the center of Oregon's migrants-about 60 percent of Oregon's farm workers are in the valley. In Woodburn, 54 percent of residents speak a language besides English.


Frances Alvarado, a farm worker advocate in Woodburn, said that many farm workers are settling down. However, settlement has led to high housing densities. In Woodburn, 11 percent of all housing units had 1.5 or more occupants per room, as did 16 percent in Gervais. The Salem Housing Authority says that it allows unauthorized foreigners to live in subsidized housing, but offers rent subsidies based only on the number of tenants who can prove they are legal. Peter Hainley, executive director of CASA Oregon, said Oregon has about 1,000 units of subsidized farm worker housing, with 90 percent of them built since 1988.


Oregon is the largest US raspberry producer, and prices rose in 2002 after the US imposed 11 percent tariffs on Chilean berries destined for freezing. In 2001, prices for machine-picked berries were as low as $0.45 a pound; in 2002, they are $0.65 a pound, or $0.80 a pound for hand-picked fruit. Washington and Oregon produce about 91 million pounds of red raspberries a year.


Washington. In Washington's Clark county, state investigators found 39 workers living in a decrepit double-wide mobile home, and ordered it closed. Owner Jim Rodda, who operates an auto-body shop on the property, said the workers were happy and safe and that "the government is just trying to close up all the little guys (who are) in business. I'm embarrassed how the U.S. acts toward Mexicans." Rodda received $3 a day from local farmers who hired the workers; the workers earned $35 to $65 a day picking strawberries and raspberries in June and July.


Local strawberry growers reported they received $0.45 a pound, and paid $0.15 a pound to have the berries picked.


Washington's 300 asparagus growers have about 19,000 acres of asparagus, down from 30,000 acres in the mid-1990s. The state's minimum wage is $6.90 an hour, and growers say that most workers earn $9 an hour on piece-rate wages.


Washington's cherry acreage rose 60 percent between 1997 and 2002, from 18,000 acres to 29,000 acres, and the 2002 crop in the northwestern states is estimated to be 87,000 tons, down from the record 98,000 tons in 2001-about one-third of US sweet cherries are exported. Growers received $0.75 to $0.95 a pound for fresh sweet cherries between 1999 and 2001, and gross revenues for the labor-intensive crop are $8,600 an acre. The US produces about 12 percent of the world's cherries, and Turkey produces another 12 percent; Iran produces 13 percent- and these three countries produce about 35 percent of the world's cherries.


Colorado. The nonprofit High Plains Housing Development Corp. operates an apartment complex for 60 workers in Weld County; tenants pay $30 a week. A new complex, Plaza del Sol, will house 145 adult workers year-round in 42 three- and four-bedroom cottages.


A drought in the Midwest is forcing many ranchers who put their cattle on grassland to sell in summer 2002. La Junta, Colorado, traditionally the second-largest cattle market after Oklahoma City, has about 3.3 million cattle, and two-thirds are expected to be sold or shipped elsewhere to graze in 2002 because of the lack of grass in the state. There are reports that migrants are staying away from Utah, where a May frost destroyed many fruit crops.


Gregg Herrington, "State Shuts Down Housing Operation For Migrants," Columbian, July 6, 2002. "Hispanics faring better because of urban shift," AP, June 23, 2002. Alex Pulaski, "Norpac Growers Agree To Union Activity On Farms," Oregonian, May 7, 2002.


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