Oakland Political Leaders Pledge Support for Food Processing Workers' Organizing Struggle
, Teamsters Joint Council 7
California legislators joined food workers and Teamster members on Thursday for an emergency briefing in Oakland on the organizing struggle at Taylor Farms. The event, which was organized by Assemblymember Rob Bonta, included testimony from two Taylor Farms workers about their fight for living wages and respect at the company’s plants in Tracy, Calif.
Politicians at the briefing pledged their support for Taylor Farms workers, who began organizing for their union with Teamsters Local 601 in August of last year and faced a brutal anti-union, anti-immigrant campaign by the company. Workers' ballots in an election for union representation were impounded by the National Labor Relations Board pending review of dozens of Unfair Labor Practice charges against the company.
Julian Camacho, the first worker to be illegally terminated for his union activity, attended Thursday's event. He gave a moving account of the harsh conditions at Taylor Farms in Tracy and the company’s fierce anti-union assault in the run up to the election.
“We drove to Oakland to talk to supporters and the support we received was unimaginable. We definitely feel like we are not alone, that there are a lot of people behind us.”
Jose Vega, another worker who went to the event, added:
“We told political leaders and others our story at Taylor Farms and they were surprised to hear that such abusive treatment of workers still goes on.”
Others who spoke at the briefing included a Safeway clerk with UFCW and a young McDonald’s worker who made the connection between the fast food workers movement and the struggle of workers further down the supply chain at Taylor Farms.
Assemblymember Bonta said:
“As the son of two activists within the United Farm Workers, I am all too aware of the struggles of immigrant workers in the California food supply chain. While the plight of workers in Tracy may seem remote to Oakland, Taylor Farms supplies the vegetables to local fast food restaurants such as McDonald's and KFC, and to other restaurant chains and grocery stores like Walmart, Safeway and Costco. The movement to organize workers across the food supply chain for fair wages and working conditions deserves our respect.”
The briefing, which was held at Teamsters Local 70, was attended by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and Oakland City Council members Libby Schaaf, Noel Gallo and Dan Kalb. Oakland School Board member Anne Campbell-Washington was also at the hearing. Oakland's school district prides itself on its progressive food procurement system that previously included Taylor Farms products.
“Your fight is our fight. We are happy to stand with your organizing effort. I look forward to standing with you to fight the fight and achieve justice.”
Rudy Cazares, a Taylor Farms worker said:
“We feel supported by all the people from different unions and communities. We are not alone in our campaign. The people we talked to felt our story in their hearts. Our voices are being heard everywhere.”
On April 23, Taylor Farms workers traveled to Sacramento to advocate in favor of legislation that would hold companies responsible for workers hired through temp agencies. In Tracy, Taylor Farms uses employment agencies to staff up to two-thirds of its processing facilities. This exploitative contractor system allows Taylor Farms to get away with serious labor violations. Meanwhile, workers make little more than minimum wage, work long hours and are often fired for reporting workplace injuries or safety issues. The company's campaign against the workers' union drive has included illegal firings, harassment, armed intimidation, racist obscenities and threats against immigrant workers.
While the NLRB is investigating charges against the company, the workers and the Teamsters are expanding the campaign for justice at Taylor Farms by reaching out community allies, political leaders and the press. In Salinas, Calif., approximately 2,500 Taylor Farms workers are members of Teamsters Local 890.
Thursday's event was co-sponsored by the Alameda County Labor Council, the Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council, and the Food Chain Workers Alliance. Teamsters from Locals 70, 853, 315, and 601 attended to hear the workers speak. Other labor allies joined the event as well, including UFCW, AFSCME, SEIU, the Oakland Education Association, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, the Community Food & Justice Coalition, and the Oakland Food Policy Council.