Ramon Ramirez, president of Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) or Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United, held a lecture and film viewing on Monday emphasizing the need to improve workers rights. The event was part of the celebration of Chicano Awareness Week at Portland State.
The film, entitled “Aumento Ya,” which means “A Raise Now” documented the strikes that farmworkers went on in the Willamette Valley. Made in 1995, the film documents the inhumane living conditions the workers are forced put up with.
PCUN celebrated their 10th anniversary in 1995 by helping these workers get their wages increased from $0.10-0.12 per pound to $0.17 per pound. Now this doesn’t sound like a big deal, explained Ramirez, but it meant a great deal to these workers.
The film showed the awful conditions of the camps that the workers were forced to live in as well as required to pay rent for. Some of the cabins in the camps consisted of only plastic tarps for the walls and roofs. Not only would the workers have to pay the growers rent for the cabins but also would be forced to pay the contractor of the camp. This person probably brought them across the border and found them the job.
With help and encouragement from PCUN, the workers in several camps held successful strikes that lead to the increase in pay as well as improvement in the living quarters.
Ramirez spoke of the poor health conditions of many workers in these camps. The workers in the camps are 25 percent more likely to get cancer. Congress released a study that showed 300,000 workers were poisoned by pesticides.
The strawberry fields are likely to be sprayed 30 times in one season, Ramirez said. In addition, an informal study found that farmworkers had double the miscarriage rate.
“People are literally dying to put food on the American table,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez also said that these poor labor conditions are the result of racism dating back to 1935 when black farmworkers were excluded from the National Labor Relations Act.
“We are not asking for anything special, just asking to be treated with respect and dignity. Rights other Americans already have,” Ramirez said.
In the last week of March, MECHA will kick off campaign to boycott PSU cafeteria sales of Norpac foods, a collaboration of around 250 growers. PCUN has already boycotted Norpac foods as well as others since 1992 and has gotten the CEO of “Bonappetite” and others to discontinue the use of Norpac foods. On March 9, PCUN is planning a National Day of Action against Norpac headquarters.
PCUN has also started two housing projects, whose name when translated means “New Dawn and Hope.” These two projects are aimed to educate and give health care to the workers. Along with this, in 1998 PCUN reached Oregon’s first collective bargaining agreement for the farm workers.
Ramirez closed on this thought: “When one section’s right’s are not guaranteed, then no ones right’s are guaranteed.”