By Edgar Franks
February 1, 2018
Originally Published in The Progressive
In the thick of Donald Trump’s first year as President, the U.S. labor movement scored an improbable victory.
The workers are mostly indigenous Mixtec and Triqui immigrants from Mexico, living in predominantly white, conservative rural counties famous as historic breeding grounds for the Ku Klux Klan. Their jobs are physically demanding and often dangerous. They have little formal power because, even though they are in the country legally, they cannot vote. And they can be deported at any moment.
Despite all this, the migrant farmworkers I work with in Washington State won union recognition. The only independent farmworker union in Washington State, Familias Unidas por la Justica, signed its first contract on June 16, 2017. The agreement, a product of years of strikes and boycott, won critical protections and bargaining power for the workers, at Sakuma Brothers berry farms in Burlington, Washington.
The agreement guarantees a $15 hourly wage, sets up a process to calculate a fair piece-rate wage for berry pickers, establishes a grievance process, protects against arbitrary termination, and otherwise protects basic worker rights.
The truth is, these workers have been living in a Trumpian America for years. As one of the organizers of this hard-fought campaign, I know their struggles and can appreciate the enormity of this win, which offers critical lessons for other resistance movements and to a labor movement whose legal protections have been beaten to historic lows.
Now, as Congress prepares to create a permanent underclass of workers by advancing a massive expansion of the country’s migrant guest worker program, their model offers profound hope.