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Why we formed an independent farm workers union

The Familias Unidas por las Justicia migrant workers’ union in Washington state is taking action to defend the rights of women workers. Español

Hector and Ramón of Familias Unidas por la Justicia. National Farm Worker Ministry/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

My name is Ramón Torres. I am the president of the independent union Familias Unidas por la Justicia in the state of Washington.

Penelope Kyritsis (oD): Can you tell us how the union addresses gender-based discrimination and violence in the workplace?

Ramón: Since we just recently formed the union, around three or four years ago, the only option we have had has been to take these cases to court. After a strike we organised to obtain a union contract, we had many cases of women who suffered abuses. There was no way to resolve these problems directly with the company. Our only option was to look for lawyers and take these cases to court. And we won.

Penelope (oD): Can you talk about the problems you had with private security?

There is a situation of daily abuse, because we are migrants and we are scared.

Ramón: The company, Sakuma Brothers Farms, brought in private security from California. What the security personnel did was check on the women in the showers. We have around 12 showers, and all the women would have to shower there. These men would use their privilege to enter the shower area and see what the women were doing. It was a very large abuse, so we took them to court and won the case. We were able to force the company to remove those people, who were violating the rights of the women workers.

Penelope (oD): What resources do these women have to report abuses?

Ramon: Well, we used to not have any. Now, thank God, we have the union. The union contract gives us an avenue to deal with situations related to abuse, especially abuse against women. There have also been cases of such abuse against male workers, though women have been more affected.

Penelope (oD): What can the government do to help these women and the workers in this sector in general?

Ramón: They should pay more attention to female migrants, since they suffer the worst abuses. There is a situation of daily abuse, because we are migrants and we are scared. If we go report a grievance, we know that we could get reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). We have families here. Also. many of our members are indigenous and don’t speak Spanish. We should ask the government to give migrants more reasonable and just rights. Gender-based violence against migrants is very common, and the government should pay attention to how companies are abusing our people.


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