PANUPS: Strawberry Workers

                         P A N U P S
                   Pesticide Action Network 
                        North America
                       Updates Service

March 28, 1997

Strawberry Workers Organize

On March 26, 1997, the United Farm Workers (UFW) with the 
support of a coalition of environmental groups took legal 
action to protect thousands of farmworkers from the fungicide 
captan. The UFW filed notices under California's Proposition 
65 charging that strawberry growers have failed to warn 
workers about the hazards of laboring in fields treated with 
the widely-used fungicide, a known carcinogen that has also 
been linked to birth defects. Strawberry workers have signed 
sworn affidavits saying they were not warned about the 
dangers of captan as required under Proposition 65. The 
proposition, a citizen-sponsored ballot initiative 
overwhelmingly approved by California voters, requires that 
the public (including workers) must be warned about exposure 
to toxic chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or 
other reproductive harm. Under Proposition 65, a judge can 
order penalties of as much as $2,500 per violation per 

In addition, the UFW has petitioned the U.S. Environmental 
Protection Agency to reconsider the re-entry period for 
workers in fields where captan has been applied. The UFW 
maintains that in 1994, in response to a request from an 
industry group representing the manufacturers of captan, the 
EPA changed the four-day re-entry interval to allow a special 
24 hour re-entry interval for strawberry harvesting and 
included no provision for protection of strawberry workers. 
For all other crops sprayed with captan, EPA permits re-entry 
after 48 hours, but only if extensive protective equipment is 
provided. The change in strawberry re-entry requirements was 
made without public notice or opportunities for input by 
affected workers or the public. The UFW petition states that 
the decision was based on a flawed analysis that 
significantly underestimated the cancer risks posed to 
strawberry harvesters. They ask for the EPA to immediately 
re-evaluate the re-entry interval and provide for public 
notice and comment before restricted re-entry intervals are 
changed in the future.

The UFW is currently working to organize the estimated 12,000 
workers in the Watsonville-Salinas area, where two-thirds of 
the strawberries in California are grown.  In September 1996, 
over 7,000 strawberry workers and their supporters marched 
through the streets of Watsonville, California, in support of 
the UFW. The march and rally was the kickoff of a nationwide 
effort to win public support for strawberry workers. As part 
of the campaign, union supporters in over 50 U.S. cities will 
ask supermarket managers to tell the California strawberry 
industry that they support better conditions for workers.

UFW officials are not calling for a boycott of strawberries; 
instead, they are asking consumers and supermarkets to sign 
pledges supporting workers' rights. UFW hopes that these 
pledges in conjunction with the union's organizing effort 
will help convince industry officials to negotiate and sign 
contracts when the union wins elections to represent 
strawberry workers.

Strawberry workers in California are fighting for a living 
wage, protection from arbitrary firings, clean drinking water 
and bathrooms in the fields, health insurance and an end to 
sexual harassment. For the approximately 20,000 strawberry 
workers in the state, the average wage is about US$8,000 a 
year, and most have not received a significant raise in the 
past ten years. Low pay means that workers must crowd into 
small, expensive apartments or live in cars, shacks and 
sometimes even caves or fields.

The UFW has called for a second march on Sunday, April 13, 
1997, in Watsonville, California. The union is estimating a 
turnout of approximately 20,000 in support of the strawberry 
workers. According to the UFW, the march will force the 
industry to hear the workers' calls for basic human, social 
and economic justice.

Contact: The Strawberry Workers Campaign in Los Angeles (213) 
387-1974; San Francisco (415) 398-7152; non-California (1-
888) 235-2466; and United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO, 
La Paz, Keene, CA 93531; phone (805) 822-5571.
Sources: The New York Times, July 3, 1996; San Jose Mercury 
News, September 16, 1996; Santa Cruz Sentinel, August 15, 
1996; UFW press release, March 26, 1997; San Francisco 
Chronicle, March 27, 1997.

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