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“I Was Tired Of The Injustice”: California Farmworkers Score Major Union Win

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In a major victory for farmworkers and the labor movement, approximately 250 tomato harvesters in California’s Stanislaus County won unionization, United Farm Workers (UFW) announced. The victory by Di Mare workers is the first under recent state law strengthening farmworkers’ union rights, including how laborers can vote in their union elections.

“The Newman-based farming company DMB Packing is already contesting the certification,” The Sacramento Bee reported. “The California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) will hold a hearing on the company’s objections in the next few weeks. Still, last Sunday’s celebration in the city of Madera, about 30 miles north of Fresno, showed no signs that the UFW or its newest members were worried. Instead, farmworkers were hopeful of what unionization could mean for their salaries, working conditions and lives.”

“I am happy with this victory under the new law,” Margarita, a 12-year Di Mare worker, said in a statement from UFW. “I have worked with the same salary for several years. I would like to see holiday pay negotiated so I can be with my family.” Sergio, another Di Mare worker, said he’d been afraid to unionize because of management. “But I overcame that fear because I was tired of the injustice. My message to other workers is not to be afraid. As César Chávez said: ¡Si se puede! I want to thank those who fought for the new law for their efforts.”

The win by Di Mare workers has also bolstered the iconic UFW organization, representing the labor union’s first major win in the state in six years, The Sacramento Bee said. This past summer, UFW and farmworkers also celebrated a historic victory in New York.

“I joined the Di Mare workers at their victory party on Sunday,” said UFW President Teresa Romero. “I saw the look of pride and hope in workers’ eyes. I saw their excitement. Thanks to good friends like you supporting the workers’ fight for this new law, they were able to vote off the jobsite and away from the supervisors’ prying eyes … and win!” 

Farmworkers led the fierce effort to make the Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act a reality, including launching a 335-mile march from Delano to Sacramento in August 2022 to urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to support the legislation. The governor had disappointingly vetoed a version of the bill a year prior. ”Starting early in relatively mild temperatures, we have our sights set on Sacramento and the right to choose how we vote in union elections, free from intimidation or coercion,” UFW said at the time.

By the time marchers reached Sacramento, temperatures had hit record-breaking triple digits. But marchers also knew that the farmworkers who put food on our tables are enduring this intense heat every season. In a victory for workers and marchers, Gov. Newsom signed the Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act in September 2022. Gov. Newsom said at the time, ‘California’s farmworkers are the lifeblood of our state, and they have the fundamental right to unionize and advocate for themselves in the workplace.'”

In New York this past summer, farmworkers and labor organizers scored one of their biggest wins in years, when 500 workers across four apple farms and one vegetable farm were unionized. “It’s the union’s biggest organizing success in years, and the first time the California-based union has organized in the north-east,” The Guardian reported. Santos Mendoza Escamilla, a Lynn-Ette & Sons worker, said he feels like he now has somebody in his corner. “Sometimes we are pushed to work so hard, it doesn’t feel doable,” Mendoza Escamilla told The Guardian. “It was always the boss’s word. Now with a union, we feel we have someone pushing back.”

Even though DMB Packing is challenging the victory in California, Cal Matters reports that Romero believes “their initial victory would encourage other farmworkers to organize and to feel more comfortable about their anonymity and job security while voting in elections.” 

“I want to thank each one of our loyal UFW supporters for everything you’ve done to help workers reach this victory,” Romero said following the Di Mare win. “Without the march and vigil this victory never would have happened. We are figuring out this process as we go along, and this fight was still not easy – the company played tricks during the election, have filed objections to the election and are still challenging the workers’ victory. We will keep you updated, because we are in this together.”

Congratulations to farmworkers at Di Mare and UFW for this momentous victory. ¡Sí, se puede!