November 22, 2000

UFW gives thanks for recent gains as it calls off table grape boycott

In a message timed for Thanksgiving, the United Farm Workers cited recent organizing and contract victories as it called a halt to its 16-year-old boycott of California table grapes.

UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez made the announcement in a letter to the St. Louis-based National Farm Worker Ministry issued from the union's Keene, Calif. headquarters. (For decades, the NFWM, related to the National Council of Churches, has coordinated support for farm workers among religious groups across the United States.) The text of the letter follows:


Dear Virginia:

As Thanksgiving Day approaches, we in the farm workers movement have much for which to be thankful.

Since kicking off a new field organizing and contract negotiating campaign among farm workers in 1994, the UFW has won 20 union elections and signed 24 new, or first-time, contracts with growers.

Just last August, the UFW signed its first agreement in 27 years with Gallo, covering 450 vineyard workers in Sonoma County. Now, about 70% of mushroom workers on California's Central Coast are protected by UFW contracts—as are more than 50% of Central Valley rose workers.

Other victories include contracts with the largest winery in Washington State, the biggest mushroom producer in Florida and the nation's largest rose producer, in California. We are negotiating with Coastal Berry Co., the largest U.S. employer of strawberry workers, for a contract covering its Ventura County work force, which we hope to conclude by the time the harvest begins this winter.

There is also new hope for meaningful enforcement of California's historic farm labor law from Gov. Gray Davis' appointees to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board.

Yet as the new year approaches, we believe it is time to call off the boycott of California table grapes that was declared in 1984.

Some goals of that boycott have already been met. Cesar Chavez's crusade to eliminate use of five of the most toxic chemicals plaguing farm workers and their families has been largely successful. Three of them—Dinoseb, parathion and Phosdrin—are gone. A fourth, methyl bromide, was set to be banned in 2000; that deadline was extended to 2005. Severe restrictions have been placed on use of the fifth chemical, Captan.

Still, it is not fair to ask our supporters to honor a boycott when the union must devote all of its present resources towards organizing and negotiating contracts. These current efforts include the recently declared boycott of Picksweet mushrooms from Ventura County, Calif., where farm workers are demanding action.

We ask your ministry and its member organizations for continued prayers and active support of our efforts. Our best wishes go to you and yours as we give thanks for the bounty that America's farm workers produce.

Viva la Causa!

Arturo S. Rodriguez, President
United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO

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