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San Quintin produce pickers return to work amid strike

Farm worker Francisco collects strawberries from pickers and loads them for transport to a cooling facility on a farm.
Farm worker Francisco collects strawberries from pickers and loads them for transport to a cooling facility on a farm.
Grant Slater/KPCC

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For the past two weeks, produce pickers in the agricultural town of San Quintin have been protesting low wages and inaccessable healthcare. Many of the fruits and vegetables picked there end up on dinner tables across the U.S.

The strike took thousands of workers off the fields and cost growers tens of millions of dollars in lost produce. The workers were pushing for a 300-peso raise--that’s about $13. Now many workers have returned to the fields, but UFW (United Farm Workers) vice president Erik Nicholson says it’s not because they were victorious; things were starting to get dire for everyone involved in the negotiations.

“It’s been very difficult for everybody. Workers who make six or seven dollars a day have no income. Growers who depend on these workers who harvest these crops have not been able to sell their produce. And retailers who depend on selling this produce to us have not had the materials they need to make a profit. “

The worker’s demands come as a result of a recent economic downturn in Mexico--a downturn that resulted in inflation. Late last week, growers started offering 15% raises to any pickers who would return to work immediately. Nicholson says that this offer won’t really solve the problem, though.

“In the last three months, workers have lost about 20% of the buying power of their wages--and this is the result of the devaluation of the Peso. They are 20% poorer now than they were three months ago. So when the grower community has put a 15% increase on the table, what that really means is that workers would be 5% poorer than they would have been three months ago.”

The new incentive further thinned the ranks of protesters, likely limiting their bargaining power going forward.

So where do the impoverished pickers go from here? Nicholson says American consumers have the power to change the Mexican agriculture industry.

“Who actually has the final say is you and I here, who consume those final products. When you open that clamshell and take out a strawberry to eat, it hasn’t been washed. It hasn’t been processed. The last hands to touched that strawberry were likely of an indigenous worker who may not have housing, who may not have access to water or sanitation.”

He says representative groups are now working to put pressure on the Mexican government and bring more regulation to the agricultural industry.