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Agricultural labor efforts that started during pandemic are still going in the Yakima Valley

On a cloudy October day, a few workers gathered outside Allan Bros. to advocate again for themselves and their colleagues.

Workers at the Naches-based fruit company went on strike last spring over COVID-19 safety concerns, kicking off a series of protests and walkouts at fruit packing houses throughout the Yakima Valley. The strikes occurred as COVID-19 cases rose drastically, with a disproportionate effect on Latinos. They garnered statewide and national attention.

Striking workers raised concerns about a lack of masks and other protective equipment and a lack of communication and enforcement from supervisors about COVID-19 measures. They also pushed for hazard pay or wages for the risk they were taking on by working during the COVID-19 pandemic. Eventually, the strikes ended with workers reaching agreements with employers.

The October gathering outside Allan Bros. didn’t attract as many workers as the strikes. But the message was clear: Months later, Allan Bros. workers still want to be heard.

A group of Allan Bros. workers has mobilized over the last few months, this time to form a union called Trabajadores Unidos por la Justicia, or Workers United for Justice.

Allen Bros. worker Angelina Lara, 48, said the company responded to worker concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic and has been providing masks and face shields daily.

Ultimately, the protests last spring encouraged employees to speak out about other issues, including pay and working conditions.

While the company signed an agreement with the protesting workers that led to the end of the strike in late May, the deal is not legally binding, like a collective bargaining agreement.

“I feel if we had a union, they would have to talk to us,” Lara said.

A date for workers to vote on whether they want to unionize hasn’t been set because of ongoing legal challenges. One dispute, which the National Labor Relations Board heard last month, involves who should be involved in a unionization vote. Organizers said the aim was to focus on the packing line and other related departments. The company wanted all employees to vote, said Edgar Franks, political director for Familias Unidas por la Justicia.

Frank and other staff from the Burlington-based farmworkers union arrived shortly after Allan Bros. employees started their protest May 7. They never left, and continued to support Yakima Valley agricultural workers during the peak harvest months.

This article was produced by the Yakima Herald and can be read on their site here:

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