Like a plague of locusts, UFW lays waste to blueberry farm

WASTELAND: The UFW came in to this blueberry farm and forced the owner to destroy his productive bushes - and the jobs of the workers who cultivated and harvested them.

WASTELAND: The UFW came in to this blueberry farm and forced the owner to destroy his productive bushes – and the jobs of the workers who cultivated and harvested them.

This was once a thriving blueberry farm that employed hundreds of people.

The UFW unionized the workers last May. UFW claimed that $17 an hour wasn’t enough money to pick berries.

Now the Klein farm in McFarland is closing down.

This picture shows all that’s left of the once-productive blueberry fields.

Supported by The Militant and other groups, the UFW backed a strike the day after Klein Management announced a reduction in the piece rate for every pound of blueberries harvested.

Blueberry prices have been going down in retail stores.

Klein Management said, “the Company made an adjustment to the piece rate it pays its employees for each pound of blueberries the employees harvest. Such an adjustment is common, and happens every season, based upon changing market conditions.”

It was all a question of supply and demand. “As the volume of blueberries getting to market increases, the price per pound drops,” Klein said.

Workers still made $17 or more per hour

“The average worker, however, continues to earn in the range of $17.00 to $17.50 per hour under either piece rate because even though the piece rate drops, the volume to be harvested increases. These are good paying jobs,” Klein said.

The lowest paid workers made $13 an hour – much more than California’s $10 minimum wage, Bakersfield.com reports. Wage printouts show that some workers made as much as $22 an hour in the fields.

Falling blueberry prices caused successive pay cuts for Klein’s farmworkers. The workers voted in May to join the UFW. The employer couldn’t stay in business by raising wages while blueberry prices declined. So huge swathes of once-productive blueberry fields are now wasteland.

Barely half of workers voted – but UFW expects ALRB to certify results

The workers went on strike on May 17, the day after Klein’s announced the rate adjustment.

Barely half of 627 the Klein workers eligible to vote actually cast their ballots. Of those who did, 347 voted to join the UFW.

The UFW expected the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board to approve the voting results. UFW leaders called for the ALRB to certify the results immediately.

“The ALRB decides and approves and the next step to have an election,” said UFW organizer Nancy Oropeza, “that means an election to be represented by the UFW.”

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