I traveled from Seattle to Yakima on May 18 to support the Apple and Fruit worker strike after reading a Familias Unidas por la Justicia social media post. Fifty fruit packers at Allan Brothers sparked a wave of strikes across the Yakima Valley after walking off the job to protest conditions made deadly by the pandemic.
The wave of strikes was sparked by 50 workers at the Allan Brothers packing house after they went on strike on May 7 to protest the conditions made deadly by the coronavirus infections that had permeated several packing warehouses in Yakima Valley. The next day over 100 of their co-workers joined the strike. Workers at another plant, Jack Frost, also walked out. After a week about seven fruit packing warehouses went out on strike.
I participated at the Matson fruit company strike line. I wore a mask out of respect for the other workers. Most had masks and there was also social distancing in place as the strikers held up signs. After delivering water and granola bars, I joined in. The Matson workers described horrible working conditions. There is a culture of abusive supervisors, some of the women experienced sexual harassment; they only had two bathrooms for over 300 workers.
The walkout at Matson happened after workers asked for $2 an hour hazard pay – from 13.50 an hour to 15.50 an hour! They asked for this after rumors were confirmed that some of the workers got sick with the virus and the company failed to put in place protective measures. The Matson management ordered only 25 masks for 300 workers and then asked workers to pay for them. The workers formed a committee to negotiate with Matson their demands which included Personal Protective Equipment (ppe), safe distancing workplaces, no retaliations, and to be treated with respect. It was a great experience to get to talk with the workers in Yakima.
Another exciting thing that happened is a got to meet a worker whose son is also a Teamster! She introduced herself after seeing my Teamster Local 763 t-shirt. Her son is a meatpacker with Teamster with Local 839. She credited the union for how the workers there were treated after the pandemic hit. The company, Lamb Weston shut down right away when a couple of workers got sick from Covid-19 in March. The plant was disinfected and workers continued to get paid. The did not get the spread like the Tyson Meat company and I think it is because Teamster negotiated pandemic protocols right away. Quite a different story at the non-represented Tyson Meat Company, where the virus spread and the death of workers made national news. I also met another worker who has a brother who works at Tyson. The company eventually did like Lamb Weston, shut down the plant, disinfected and sent the workers home with pay. They also got hazard pay. Teamster should do an organizing drive at Tyson. I am so glad I wore my Teamster T-shirt.