The Shafter Press - Serving the community since 1922

By Jamie Stewart
The Shafter Press 

Strike at Wonderful ends as pay cut rescinded

 

January 17, 2019 | View PDF

United Farm Workers | Armando Elenes

Workers learn that the rate per bin had been restored.

Almost 1,800 workers who walked for four days in protest of a decrease in payments have returned to work at the Wonderful Orchards throughout Kern County, after the company reversed the cut.

On Friday, Wonderful Company announced that they would cut the price they pay per bin on their citrus from $53 to $48. Workers walked out in protest, leaving fruit unpicked on the trees.

"We don't think it is fair that we get cut for doing the same job all year round, but they raise their workers' minimum wage at the same time. It seems funny to me," said a 36-year-old worker with a wife and two kids.

In a press release over the weekend, The Wonderful Company said it was "disappointed" by the protest by contracted workers. He said the price reduction resulted from the company's seasonal transition from clementines to mandarins oranges, both of which are marketed as Halos.

"This season, due to the smaller size of the clementines, we paid a premium for harvesting, and we are back to paying regular rate for the mandarins," said Mark Carmel, a spokesman for Wonderful

Earlier this month, Wonderful Company announced that it would be raising its minimum wage for their workers to $15 an hour. But, as workers employed by third-party labor contractors, the workers who protested do not work directly for Wonderful.

The workers said that they believe Wonderful is reducing the price to save money because of the minimum wage increase. Luis Rodriguez, a fruit pickr involved in the protest, said, "We don't think it is fair to make us pay for it. We work hard and deserve a fair price."

After the workers picketed at orchards near Shafter and appeared at the Wonderful Company's plant near Delano, the company released a statement on Monday that said that the rate would be reinstated.

"We have resolved the main concern raised by our third-party labor contractors and will restore the previous bin rate," the statement said. "The majority of our workers are back on the job, and we anticipate returning to normal operations soon."

One of the strike leaders, Luis Benitez, a Bakersfield resident who has picked citrus for 15 years, said that the main issue has been resolved, but there are still issues that the company has not responded to.

There have been recent complaints about unpaid time between reporting for work and starting to pick, among other issues. "What we want is to talk to a representative of the company," Benitez said.

Some people, including Rodriguez, said that this walkout could present an opportunity for the United Farm Workers to organize the workers in the company. "We are glad to be going back to work but we still have a long way to go to get everything resolved," he said.

 

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