Thousands of farmworkers in San Quintin Valley, Baja California, Mexico, began a labor strike on March 17th, protesting low wages and poor working conditions. The striking workers also shut down 55 miles of the Trans-Peninsular Highway for several days, blocking the movement of produce from Baja California to the US. The highway blockade has been stopped for now, but the work stoppage continues.
The workers are paid about $10/day, and for most wages have not increased in years. In addition to higher wages, the workers seek employers’ compliance with their obligation to pay into Mexico’s social security and health insurance system as well as with labor laws. The workers’ alliance also demands an end to sexual harassment in the fields. Last Wednesday, an employer representative offered the workers a 6% increase—that is, just $.60 more per day— an amount the workers understandably found offensive. As negotiations continued the employers increased their offers to an 8% increase per day. The workers, represented by the Alliance of National, State and Municipal Organizations for Social Justice, a coalition of indigenous groups, countered with a demand to be paid $19 a day. The strike and the negotiations have continued into this week. The organizers have also said that they plan to call for a boycott of goods produced in the region.
Many of the fruits and vegetables grown near San Quintin in the Mexican state of Baja California are grown on large farms that use modern technology and are sold in major US supermarket chains and restaurants. Some of the farm operators are co-owned by or affiliated with U.S. companies. Often, US consumers will not notice a price difference between produce grown in the US and produce grown abroad. Mexican farmworkers should be earning higher wages and the laws should be enforced.
Farmworker Justice stands in solidarity with these striking farmworkers who seek to improve their working conditions and be paid a living wage. The U.S. government should use its influence with U.S.-based corporations and with the Mexican government to press for enforcement of labor rights and improvement in wages and working conditions.
A few of the farmworker leaders in San Quintin drew on organizing experience and relationships in the US with the United Farm Workers union and the Coalition of Immokolee Workers. The United Farm Workers started an on-line petition to US retailers asking that they demand that they hold the growers, such as Driscoll’s accountable. An important solution to address these problems is the Equitable Food Initiative, which Farmworker Justice co-founded with other organizations, including the UFW and Costco Warehouse. The EFI, www.equitablefood.org, offers training of workers and managers and a certification system to assure growers, workers and consumers that there is compliance with meaningful standards on wages and working conditions, pesticide safety, and food safety. The EFI is working with two farms in Baja California in Mexico as well as farms in the U.S. and Canada.