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------------------------- Via Workers World News Service Reprinted from the July 10, 1997 issue of Workers World newspaper -------------------------
Florida: Labor marches for mushroom workers By Dianne Mathiowetz in Quincy, Fla. On June 28 under a blazing hot sun, some 2,000 supporters of Florida mushroom workers fighting for union rights marched and chanted their way through this town, home of Quincy Farms and its main product, Prime Mushrooms.
Just 20 miles from the state capital of Tallahassee, Quincy's 7,500 people are divided into a very wealthy few and the many who work for minimum wage or less.
Dozens of national and state labor, civil-rights, women's, community, student and religious organizations sent delegations to the action. Among the rally speakers were Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez, Southern Christian Leadership Conference President Dr. Joseph Lowery, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists President Bill Lucy, and Quincy Mayor Millie Forhand.
Quincy Farms produces 20 million pounds of mushrooms annually. Some 550 workers pick and package mushrooms for up to 10 hours a day at low wages with no benefits and under poor working conditions. Divided just about evenly between Black and Latino workers, many are women.
The union struggle erupted on March 14, 1996, when 85 workers held a demonstration at the front gate of the plant during their lunch break. They chanted and carryied signs calling for higher wages and better working conditions. Police arrested 25 after Quincy Farms President Rick Lazzarini called the sheriff to stop the protest. All 85 workers were fired.
Lazzarini-whose new 12,000-square- foot home is reminiscent of old slaveholders' plantations-refuses to bargain with the Farm Workers. He claims the workers are lying about their low pay and miserable conditions.
A boycott of Prime Mushrooms, sold mostly in Florida and the Southeast, has been called to pressure Quincy Farms management and its owner-Sylvan Inc. of Pennsylvania-to negotiate.
Juana Alas, one of the workers arrested and fired in 1996, spoke to the crowd in Spanish. Thanking all those who support the mushroom workers, she tearfully concluded, "This struggle for justice is for our children."
UNITED FARM WORKERS QUINCY FARMS OF AMERICA, AFL-CIO 190 Mannie Gunn Rd. 116 South Jackson St. Quincy, Fla. 32351 Quincy, Fla. 32351
For Release: 10:30 a.m. EST, July 20, 1999
10:30 a.m. Tuesday in Quincy, Fla. Florida's largest mushroom producer to sign contract with United Farm Workers
In a move aimed at forging a new partnership between workers and growers, Quincy Farms--Florida's top producer of fresh mushrooms and one of the biggest mushroom companies in the nation--will sign a contract Tuesday morning with the Cesar Chavez-founded United Farm Workers. Workers will witness the signing in the Portabello mushroom facility of the North Florida farm.
UFW President Arturo Rodriguez and Quincy Farms Chairman and CEO Dennis Zensen and company President Greg Verhagen will pen the 18-month agreement covering up to 430 mushroom pickers and packers. They will use the occasion to announce establishment of "a new mutually-beneficial partnership" aimed at keeping Quincy Farms "competitive and profitable."
Tuesday's event follows a July 7 card-check election during which the company verified that the UFW had submitted 289 cards representing 68% of Quincy Farms workers who authorized the union to represent them. Under Florida's right-to-work law, union membership is voluntary. Workers who do not join the UFW will receive the same contract benefits, except the union pension plan. Those employees would continue to participate in the company’s existing pension plan.
Details of the contract will be released Tuesday. It includes pay and benefit increases and new worker protections.
Who: UFW President Arturo Rodriguez, Quincy Farms Chairman & CEO Dennis Zensen, company President Greg Verhagen and Quincy Farms mushroom workers.
What: Signing a union contract covering up to 430 employees of Florida's largest mushroom producer.
Highlights of the contract between Quincy Farms and United Farm Workers
Under the 18-month agreement, packinghouse workers receive a 50? per hour pay raise retroactive to May 1, 1999. Luggers and forklift drivers get a 25? per hour hike, also retroactive to May 1.
All employees--including pickers (or harvesters) and crew leaders--will be eligible for two profit-sharing bonus checks based on company profits. Workers employed at the end of each of two nine-month periods covered by the contract will be eligible for checks. They will be issued on or before March 15, 2000 and on or before Dec. 31, 2000.
When workers are hired, they will have the option of joining the company's 401K retirement plan or Quincy Farms will pay 5? for each hour worked into the joint union-employer Juan de la Cruz Farm Workers Pension Plan. Pension benefits will cover all bargaining unit workers at Quincy Farms.
The company will continue its existing medical coverage. Quincy Farms will cover up to an additional $50,000 a year in premiums, which is expected to meet increases in health care rates so workers will not see a hike in out-of-pocket costs.
Under the contract's senority provisions, all Quincy Farms workers will be hired, laid off and promoted solely based on qualification for the job and years of service with the company.
The company will continue its existing paid vacation plan. Benefits are determined by years of service at the company.
The company's existing work safety program is placed into the contract. Changes to it cannot be made without the approval of a joint management-worker safety committee, half of which is composed of union members.
Workers can only be fired for just cause. The contract includes a grievance procedure and binding arbitration. Union shop stewards can handle grievances during company time.
Other provisions include access to the facility by union officers and staff, up to 30 days per year of unpaid personal leave, maintenance of all current benefits and protections, and a bulletin board for the posting of union notices.
Remarks from Arturo S. Rodriguez, President, United Farm Workers of America, July 20, 1999
Quincy Farms is the second agricultural employer to sign a United Farm Workers contract in Florida history. It is the only union contract at this time.1
This proud day would not have happened without the great organization and spirit of the Quincy Farms workers, and the cooperation and good faith of the UFW and the Quincy Farms ownership. They are ready to make change happen.
But the story of Quincy Farms is also historic because this employer is willing to meet its workers' needs and vice versa.
This event is significant because after three years of controversey, the company--to its credit--recognized the UFW after a card-check election.2
Quincy Farms has established a model for progressive labor relations by recognizing the advantages of the company, union and employees working together. Quincy was willing to sit down at the bargaining table and honestly deal with issues in an unprecedented fashion.
With the signing of this 18-month agreement, the UFW and Quincy Farms also embark on a new mutually-beneficial partnership that we know will grow into a long-lasting relationship.
Our experience with most employers who sign UFW contracts is that morale and productivity dramatically improve when workers feel good about their work, when they have a stake in their jobs and when they enjoy decent pay, benefits and protections, including job security.
Today we make this pledge to Quincy Farms-and issue an appeal to the rest of the agricultural industry in Florida, California and across the nation:
Once growers are willing to recognize that farm workers need and deserve the security UFW contracts bring, then farm workers will reciprocate by helping employers with their problems. That means farm workers and their union will do everything possible to ensure that employers with UFW contracts flourish economically. We want Quincy Farms to be competitive and profitable.
1 The first was the agreement Cesar Chavez negotiated with Coca Cola Co. for its Minute Maid citrus groves in 1972. It was lost when the company was sold a few years ago.
2 On July 7, 1999, the UFW submitted 289 cards signed by 68% of Quincy Farms workers who authorized the union to represent them.