On the Picket Line

Central Wash. vegetable packers organize to win union, rights

By Rebecca Williamson
October 26, 2020

PASCO, Wash. — “Work is hard and there are a lot of accidents,” Maria Meraz Cortez said to the Militant at a rally of more than 80 people outside Twin City Foods here in central Washington Oct. 2. The workers are fighting for safer working conditions, better wages and against higher health care costs. Two co-workers from the plant have died from COVID-19 and workers say the company has been disregarding safety. One worker’s sign read, “We are people, not machines.”

“There are some 560 workers” at the plant, which processes and packs frozen peas, corn, carrots and lima beans, Jorge Villegas, who works on the plant floor, told the Militant. Of these, only about 180 are permanent workers, with the rest seasonal employees, including many brought in from Mexico.

“The supervisors can fire anyone, anytime, even the best workers, without any reason,” said Meraz, who has worked there since November 2018 and is still not a permanent worker. “Workers really hate this.” She added, “When we report an injury, we are told, ‘go to the Cold Room’ [freezer] to work.” The workers are fighting to win the United Food and Commercial Workers union to represent them. Some 200 workers have signed cards for the UFCW and the union has filed with the National Labor Relations Board for an election.

Along with lots of honks from passersby, signs reflected solidarity from the region, including from Columbia Basin College faculty, Teamsters and grocery workers, a firefighter, as well as Walmart workers and a railroad worker from the Seattle area.

Three carloads of people, including workers from a packinghouse in Naches, joined the rally. After a three-week strike in May, they too are fighting to form a union at Allan Brothers, a fruit packing company. Agustín López spoke for their new union, Trabajadores Unidos por la Justicia (Workers United for Justice) at the rally, backing the workers at Twin City Foods in their struggle.