On Monday and Tuesday mornings, more than 200 workers from Gargiulo, Inc. participated in a labor strike along Manning Avenue in rural Mendota.
By the time I arrived to the field site around 8 a.m. yesterday, the San Joaquín Valley was already beginning to bake. The workers wore their typical field clothing: long pants, long shirts, hats, and bandanas covering their heads and mouths. But instead of picking tomatoes, the workers waved the United Farm Workers’ red flag as cars and trucks zoomed down the road, as they had done since about 4 a.m.
The workers decided to strike, “to demand better working conditions, better treatment and, most importantly, respect, including a better salary,” Antonio Cortes, the UFW’s internal organizer coordinator, told me in Spanish. The workers’ main concern, he said, is the employer, “has made many promises, but they have not kept these promises.”
For example, “we ask for a wage increase, and they say they will give it to us – but we are deceived,” explained employee Jesús Zúñiga, who has been with the company since 1999.
Around 8:15 a.m., the farmworkers traveled to the company’s packinghouse in Firebaugh, where workers like Marcelino Pacheco, above – who had already signed a card authorizing the UFW to represent him, and had proudly pinned it to his shirt – encouraged the packinghouse workers to join their push for union representation. They chanted various slogans: Que es lo que queremos? Un contrato! (What do we want? A contract!) and Si no piscamos, no se empaca! (If we don’t pick, there is nothing to pack!)
The video below captures the energy of the morning:
UPDATE: This morning between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m., the Gargiulo workers voted on whether to unionize or not. The votes will be counted at 11:30 a.m.
The workers’ strike and election come on the heels of a contract signed between the UFW and Tracy-based Pacific Triple E, one of the nation’s largest fresh tomato companies.
Top and bottom photos enhanced with Instagram.