March 9, 1998
U.S. strawberry workers seek help in meetings with Japanese buyers of American fruit plus consumer, environmental and labor groups
Top representatives from the largest union of agricultural workers in the United States will plead the case of abused American strawberry workers during meetings in Japan with produce industry buyers of U.S. berries as well as major labor, consumer and environmental organizations.
The United Farm Workers (UFW) and the AFL-CIO–America’s national federation of unions–are sponsoring one of the largest organizing campaigns in the U.S. to help improve the lives of California’s 20,000 strawberry workers. Senior UFW officials are in Japan during the week of March 9-15 as part of a major drive to win support for the plight of California strawberry workers from the Japanese produce industry and ordinary consumers.
The UFW faces stiff resistance from California’s $650 million-a-year strawberry industry. Berry pickers are mostly migrants from Mexico. Workers laboring for growers such as those connected with Driscoll, the largest U.S. strawberry corporation, face low pay, pesticide-treated fields and firing or threats of retaliation if they organize with the United Farm Workers.
The UFW was founded by legendary U.S. labor and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, who died in 1993. Under his successor, UFW President Arturo Rodriguez, the union has rallied support for the strawberry workers from across the country. In April 1997, more than 30,000 workers and supporters marched in Watsonville, Calif., in the heart of the strawberry growing region, to show support for the UFW.
Touring Japan this month are UFW First Vice President Irv Hershenbaum and Manny Pastreich, research coordinator for the joint strawberry workers campaign sponsored by the UFW and the AFL-CIO. They seek to build support for strawberry workers among Japanese consumers and to establish long term relationships with the Japanese produce industry as well as labor, consumer and environmental groups.
(To arrange interviews with members of the UFW delegation in Japan during the week of March 9-15, contact Marc Grossman or Jocelyn Sherman at the phone numbers listed above.)
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