The current economic and political climate creates many challenges for Washington state-area farms. In many ways, these challenges are unprecedented. The economic climate of law unemployment means that Washington growers will likely have to pay higher wages or at least better conditions for workers, who are largely migrant workers who head north during the busy season. At the same time, political winds send the message to immigrants that the status quo of coming to America and finding a job is drawing to a close.
In 2013, labor unrest came to the Skagit Valley, where a group of migrant workers formed a union called Familias Unidas por la Justicia, or Families United for Justice. The migrant workers are from indigenous tribes originally from Southern Mexico who migrate to Washington farms during the busy season. Many of them have been making this trek for years. They decided to strike to protest pay, poor living conditions, and not being paid what their employers promised to pay them.
Familias Unidas represents pickers who come to work in berry fields in the area. Haagen Dazs, the Dutch ice cream company, is a large customer of the farm and uses the berries in their ice cream.
In that instance, the workers were looking for an increase in pay and better living conditions. The farm was paying the workers $12 per hour plus a per-pound rate for berries that they brought in. In addition, the farm provided places to stay. The workers were looking for an increase in the per-pound rate and better living conditions. The farm posted two bodyguards around the workers’ living quarters. The workers claimed that it was abusive; the farm claimed that it was to protect the workers.
Legalities of a Strike
Because these workers are not public sector workers, a strike is legal. It is a useful tool to negotiate. These days, with low unemployment and smaller migrant workforce, unions should be able to capitalize on these conditions and bring better results for their constituents.
Note that when striking, there is the risk of job abandonment. Job abandonment is when an employee leaves his or her job, has no intention to return to that job, and does not inform his or her employer. It is recommended that at the outset, an employer provides an employee with a guideline to deal with job abandonment.
Generally, employers are cautious about job abandonment and will, at first, try to contact a missing employee. To fire an employee without an investigation can open up liability for wrongful termination.
When striking in an economic climate in which it may be easy to move to another job, when workers do not return to work, there may be questions of job abandonment. This may harm the union that is negotiating on behalf of the workers. It such a situation, it is probably advisable to strike while walking the picket line to show that you have not abandoned your job and are trying to get fair pay and conditions.
Labor issue? Contact the HKM law firm.