New farmworkers reject UFW and start their own union

New farmworkers in the Western United States increasingly prefer to start their own union – or have no union at all – instead of joining the UFW.

Presently, the UFW’s entire membership represents less than 1 percent of farmworkers in California alone. Almost nobody wants to join the UFW any more. “UFW has become lazy. UFW’s leaders are just milking the nostalgia for César Chávez from almost a half-century ago,” said Silvia Lopez of Pick Justice. “UFW doesn’t benefit the farmworkers of today.”

In Washington state, after four years of strikes and boycotts, berry workers at Sakuma Brothers Farms started their own union: Familias Unidas por la Justicia (Families United for Justice), known as FUJ.

That was a big rejection of the UFW.

“FUJ will represent all berry pickers at Sakuma Brothers Farm,” the union announced, calling the contract “historic.”

“For all crops, there will be a minimum wage of $12 per hour,” FUJ said. That’s more than the $10.50 that the UFW was able to negotiate for its California members this year.

Many workers found that they are better off with no union at all. After being neglected by the UFW for nearly 20 years, workers at Gerawan Farming in California’s Central Valley cooperated with their employers to earn a base pay of $11 an hour in 2014, with the average pay $16 an hour this year for grape pickers. Gerawan workers voted in 2013 to get rid of the UFW, but the state of California won’t allow it, and has refused to count their ballots.

A movement of indigenous workers

“We are part of a movement of indigenous people,” FUJ Vice President Felimon Pineda told the American Prospect.

Pineda is from Jicaral Cocoyan de las Flores in the state of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico. He said one of the purposes of FUJ is to fight against poor treatment of indigenous people in Mexico and the US. “Sometimes people see us as being very low,” he said. “They think we have no rights. They’re wrong. The right to be human is the same.”

These indigenous people, who come up from Mexico, are what UFW leaders used to deride as “wetbacks” and “illegals,” according to the Huffington Post. The UFW today has shown little if any interest in reaching out to indigenous workers from Mexico.

Rosalinda Guillen, who leads a worker advocacy group called Community2Community, told the American Prospect, “Indigenous culture plays a huge role, especially people’s collective decision-making process. The strong bonds of culture and language give the union a lot of its strength.”

New movement eclipses UFW

“Fifty years ago, the United Farm Workers was built by thousands of farm workers in fields across California, who believed the union spoke for their needs, whether or not they were working under a union contract,” according to the American Prospect. Today on the Washington coast, a growing number of field laborers look at FUJ in the same way.”