(en)UNION ORGANIZERS ASSAULTED

Lyn and Shawn (linjin@tao.ca)
Tue, 24 Jun 1997 00:46:56 pst


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Date sent: Mon, 23 Jun 1997 18:31:19 -0700 (PDT) Labor Alerts/Labor News a service of Campaign for Labor Rights 1247 "E" Street SE, Washington, DC 20003 clr@igc.apc.org (541) 344-5410 http://www.compugraph.com/clr

UNION ORGANIZERS ASSAULTED, CLERGY ARRESTED AT LABOR CAMPS FOR ADVISING FARM WORKERS OF NEW MINIMUM WAGE AND OTHER RIGHTS

DATE: June 12, 1997

CONTACT: Leone Jose Bicchieri, PCUN Board Member, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste/Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United, 300 Young St., Woodburn, OR 97071; Phone: 503/982-0243; Fax: 503/982-1031

Standing with Workers in Defense of Basic Rights/pushing for a Living Wage:

The aim of PCUN's Campaign this summer is to follow Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon's call to people of faith to stand with farmworkers and support the workers' basic human rights, including the right to organize without fear of reprisals. Ten days into the strawberry harvest, and 2 1/2 weeks into the Accompaniment Campaign for Farmworker Justice, NORPAC growers (makers of FLAV-R-PAC frozen fruits and vegetables, and distributor of Gardenburger vegetarian burger) have responded with threats, intimidation, arrests, and violence to PCUN's campaign to inform workers of the new State minimum wage of $5.50/hour and other basic rights.

NORPAC is the biggest food processing cooperative west of the Mississippi River, owned by some 300 growers in Oregon's Willamette Valley. NORPAC farms where the union is active have raised wages in the strawberry harvest to avoid workplace actions by their pickers, and others have raised wages after their workers stages work stoppages with PCUN's support.

NORPAC Grower Ignores Injured Worker's Plea for Medical Attention:

One picker at Jerry Ditchen's (NORPAC) farm northeast of Salem injured his back lifting strawberry boxes, and the contractor (a labor contractor for several NORPAC farms) refused him medical attention. The worker was complaining of severe lower back pain and pain in his legs. The worker finally got a ride to PCUN's offices on his own, was taken to a local hospital and diagnosed with a serious lower-back strain, and ordered to perform only very light work. The worker described to organizers and supporters how he and other workers are $500 in debt for rides up to Oregon, and that they want to raise complaints and demands against the growers, but they fear reprisals. He added that the supervisors have told the workers that those who openly invite PCUN organizers into the camps will be fired and evicted from the camps. Among the witnesses to this man's pain and fear was a member of the Board of Directors of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon. With pressure, Ditchen agreed to pay for the hospital bill.

NORPAC Growers Post Guards at Camps and Employ Violence Against Organizers:

Two labor camps housing some 140 workers have been the site of the most repression and even violence. These camps are owned by two NORPAC growers, Glen Zielinski and Jerry Ditchen, and provide workers to several other NORPAC growers. Two years ago, workers at Zielinski's camp (under PCUN's leadership) struck for higher wages in the strawberry harvest. Last year, broccoli cutters at Ditchen's farm (with PCUN's support) won a settlement of $10,500 for transportation and minimum wage violations. To keep their workers from understanding their basic rights, these growers have tried everything to keep organizers and supporters away from the workers: posting guards at camp entrances from morning until night, foremen yelling at the workers in the fields and camps that they will be fired and evicted from the camps if they talk with the union, arresting organizers and clergy for talking with workers at the camps, and one assault by a labor contractor against a union organizer and support (the two victims were treated for minor scratches, bruises, and sore backs and shoulders at a nearby hospital). The assault occurred on Tuesday, June 3, 1997, at Glen Zielinski's labor camp on River Road near Brooks.

Growers Threaten Workers and Arrest Organizers and Clergy for Visiting Labor Camps:

After the organizer and supporter were assaulted by Jose Ramirez (of Ramirez Contracting in Brooks) in the presence of a Presbyterian minister, Rev. Rebecca Hazen, three Marion County Sheriffs patrol cars arrived within minutes and arrested the minister and the two assault victims, but declined to arrest or even talk with Jose Ramirez, as several other employees of Ramirez Contracting stood only feet away and openly laughed and joked about the incident. The deputies said that they arrived on the scene quickly because Lt. Raul Ramirez had ordered them to do so (Lt. Ramirez is Jose Ramirez's nephew and is presently launching his election campaign for Marion County Sheriff). After the assault, Jose Ramirez continued to scream obscenities and angrily ask which worker in the camp invited the organizer and minister to visit them, visibly scaring the camp residents. The union is in possession of a videotape that shows the entire incident, a copy of which was given to the Marion County Sheriff's Department. At present, it appears that the Sheriff's Dept. has not arrested or even talked with Jose Ramirez.

On Thursday, June 5, Rev. Edgar Brandt, a Lutheran minister and Executive Director of the Oregon Farm Worker Ministry, was arrested along with one PCUN organizer and two students from Oregon State University's MEChA (Chicano student organization). The four were visiting workers at Ditchen's camp, where the workers were telling about their living conditions in the camp, showing the flat wooden bunk beds on which they sleep, most with no mattresses or blankets.

The third arrest occurred when two organizers and eight supporters walked a few feet into a grassy area, which was unfenced, unmarked and assumed to be public property near a NORPAC grower's strawberry field. When the pickers noticed the organizers, they stopped working, shouted "Viva la union!" and refused to pick. Unable to force the workers back to picking, the labor contractors called the grower and the Marion County Sheriff's Dept. When the deputies arrived, the workers felt threatened and promptly started picking again. The deputies said there was no cause to arrest and were preparing to depart, when Glen Zielinski arrived on the scene, took the deputies aside and yelled at them for several minutes within earshot of the organizers and supporters, insisting that the deputies arrest (only) the union organizer and the supporter that he had ordered arrested just three days earlier at his labor camp.

*****ACTION*****ACTION*****ACTION*****

Request to unions, people of faith, and student, community & civil rights activists:

Please send a letter or fax as soon as possible to NORPAC board chair Alan Keudell, P.O. BOX 458, Stayton OR 97383 (fax: 503/769-1274) asking that:

1. The NORPAC board use its influence to stop the violence, threats, Arrests, and intimidation against the norpac field workers, union organizers, supporters and clergy; 2. NORPAC respect their field workers' basic human rights and sign a pledge of non-retaliation against their workers who openly organize under pcun's leadership; and 3. Norpac farms hold free and fair elections, monitored by an agreed- upon third party, to determine whether the workers desire union representation.

Please send a copy of your letter/fax to PCUN, attention: Leone.

Only this moral pressure, and the national consumer boycott of FLAV-R- PAC, WEST-PAC and Gardenburger can lead to NORPAC growers negotiating fair conditions with their workers. Thank you very very much!!!!!

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