Rancho Laguna farmworkers get raise after multi-week organizing effort

After more than a month of organizing efforts, including worker walkouts and attempts to submit a petition to Driscoll’s, farmworkers at Rancho Laguna Farms successfully received a raise. 

Rancho Laguna Farms is a Santa Maria-based direct supplier to the berry company Driscoll’s. Rancho Laguna farmworkers first took action on May 4 with a strike, demanding a raise and safer working conditions amid COVID-19. 

click to enlarge Rancho Laguna farmworkers get raise after multi-week organizing effort
SUCCESSFUL PETITION : Former Rancho Laguna employee José Luis Ramírez Carrera carries pages filled with the thousands of signatures in support of his and his fellow workers’ petition. The petition was handed off to Driscoll’s on June 10.

But after engaging in the strike, a protected action, some workers say they experienced retaliation from their employer. In response, workers organized a petition demanding that Driscoll’s address their grievances. 

Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) also stepped in to help workers file a complaint with the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, which is still investigating the claims. 

After the workers’ online petition went viral, garnering more than 60,000 signatures, Driscoll’s accepted the petition, and Rancho Laguna owner Larry Ferini agreed to sit down with workers and negotiate. 

CAUSE announced on June 22 that workers received a raise to $2.10 per box of strawberries after meeting with Ferini.

“Rancho Laguna Farms also pledged to train foremen and supervisors in better communication skills and triple the amount of shade so workers can properly social distance during breaks,” a CAUSE press release stated.

The details of the raise are outlined in a June 15 memo Ferini sent to all Rancho Laguna employees.

“As the end of the 2020 picking season comes to an end, we must look to the future,” Ferini wrote in the memo. “As I plan for the 2021 season, barring any unforeseen economic downturns, I expect that all strawberry pickers working for Rancho Laguna Farms will start the 2021 picking season at $2.10 per box.”

This statement addresses worker concerns that the raise they won might not continue in future seasons, something that workers said they’ve experienced in the past. 

Hazel Davalos, CAUSE’s community organizing director, told the Sun that Ferini’s stated plan for future seasons is a win, though not necessarily a guarantee.

“In the letter they do put in writing that they expect to pay $2.10 next season, but barring the economy falling apart,” Davalos said. “We didn’t feel like that was the assurance we wanted. With no contract, there’s no promise. But, we are glad that it was put in writing.”

The memo also promises recall eligibility, meaning that Ferini plans to hire current employees back next season. Davalos said this was initially a big concern for workers, so the workers are happy to see it in writing.

“Every employee that ends the 2020 season with Rancho Laguna Farms will be eligible for recall for the 2021 season,” Ferini’s memo states. “I will welcome all of you back.” 

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