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UFW signs pact with Mexican state for guest workers on U.S. farms
Source labornet@labornet.org
Date 08/04/19/14:01

www.sacbee.com

UFW signs pact with Mexican state for guest workers on U.S. farms
By Susan Ferriss - sferriss@sacbee.co

THE UNITED Farm Workers union has signed an agreement with a Mexican state to
help recruit guest workers to labor on U.S. farms legally and under union
contract.

"If this is something that's going to be utilized more in the future, then we've
got to get in on it," UFW President Arturo Rodriguez said of the H-2A guest
worker program. "We're looking for enlightened employers who are willing to sit
down and do this with us."

The agreement was signed in early April in the western state of Michoacan, which
has a long history of migration to California and is governed by the leftist
Party of the Democratic Revolution.

The agreement is a significant example of the UFW's acceptance that foreign
laborers are an inevitable part of U.S. agriculture. The union was founded in
the 1960s as an ardent foe of the old bracero farm guest worker program with Mexico.

In 1986, however, the UFW helped farmworkers obtain legal status during an
amnesty. Over the last decade, the UFW has also joined farm groups to lobby
Congress to pass a bill allowing farm laborers to receive conditional legal
status and then green cards if they continue to work in agriculture for three to
five more years.

Even if they achieve passage of that proposal, the UFW and growers say, legal
workers would eventually move out of the fields, and others would be needed.

Growers also say they're worried that federal agents will crack down on illegal
immigrants in the near future and leave them without workers.

The federal H-2A program allows growers to sponsor workers for short periods and
requires them to provide housing. It is rarely used in California the nation's
biggest food producer because undocumented workers are so plentiful. Employers
complain the program doesn't admit workers fast enough to meet harvest needs.

The union's goal, Rodriguez said, would be to get involved in the H-2A program
to stop abuses that riddle recruitment in Mexico and after workers arrive in the
United States.

Rodriguez said the union plans to seek out employers, especially in California,
willing to sign transnational contracts that guarantee rights in Mexico during
the recruitment process and in the fields here.

The government of Michoacan would help find interested workers, and the UFW
would match companies with workers with skills that are needed.

Jack King, government affairs director for the California Farm Bureau, said
farmers "face a different world in contracting labor in the future."

"I expect there will be a lot of groups forming to bring workers into the United
States," King said. "I guess we would welcome the UFW as well."

Growers in the Southeast and Midwest are the chief employers of H-2A workers
now. A labor union that operates in those regions, the Farm Labor Organizing
Committee or FLOC already represents H-2A workers on both sides of the
border. In 2004, it signed transnational contracts with growers associations in
North Carolina and other states representing 7,000 Mexican H-2A tobacco and
produce workers.

FLOC leader Baldemar Velas-quez who has talked with the UFW about
transnational contracts said, "The key is whether workers are empowered to
defend themselves during all parts of the process," from recruitment to work.
"That's what makes this agreement the cleanest operation for any of these guest
worker programs in the United States."

FLOC's work helping Mexicans become U.S. guest workers has proven dangerous.
FLOC's Monterrey, Mexico, office received threats from people they suspect
viewed them as competition. A year ago, their Monterrey-based organizer was
murdered in the union office, Velasquez said. Mexican police arrested a suspect
with a history of human and drug smuggling.

Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League in Fresno, predicted that
most farmers won't be interested in working with the UFW to bring in workers
under union contact. However, he said, as times change, "like any of us, I think
it's smart of the UFW to communicate with those countries" that farmworkers are
likely to come from.

(c) Sacramento Bee 2008

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