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Santa Maria farmworkers to deliver petition to employer asking for higher pay, safer conditions

farmworkers driscolls
Abraham Melendrez
Farmworkers from Rancho Laguna Farms in Santa Maria are protesting over working conditions during the pandemic.

SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Santa Maria farmworkers plan to submit a petition with over 57,000 signatures to Driscoll's, the world’s largest berry distributor, asking that the company pressure its local supplier, Rancho Laguna Farms, to respond to worker demands.

Tuesday at 6 p.m., farmworkers and advocates will deliver the printed petition with the signatures to Driscoll’s Santa Maria.

This will be the latest attempt to have their demands addressed.

The push for higher pay and improved work conditions began on May 4 and 5, when over 100 Rancho Laguna farmworkers coordinated a work stoppage. Their stated goal was to get a raise based on the added dangers of their job during the COVID-19 pandemic and an overall increase in the cost of living.

Rancho Laguna supervisors responded by calling the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and fired the workers involved, organizers said.

Since then, Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) stepped in and helped file a report with the Agriculture Labor Relations Board to investigate and reinstate workers’ jobs.

The workers are now back at work and are asking for a $0.25 per box raise, an end to all retaliation and improved safety standards.

On May 28, Rancho Laguna workers tried to deliver a petition of
75 worker signatures
, but Driscoll’s staff refused to receive it. Instead, staff reportedly called the police to remove the workers from the property.

Workers were offered a meeting with Driscoll’s president, Soren
Bjorn, on May 31. However, they said they have yet to hear anything back from Driscoll’s or Rancho Laguna regarding their demands. Driscoll's contends that the proposed meeting did, in fact, take place.

Driscoll's says Rancho Laguna Farms has reached out to CAUSE to answer specific questions regarding wages but claim they have not heard back from the organization. Driscoll’s says they have reached out regarding safety protocols as well.

After the initial publication of this story, Driscoll's provided a statement to our newsroom which states in part:

Driscoll’s is fully committed to protecting the health and safety of those who work across our broader enterprise, including harvesters employed by our independent growers. In addition to the wage dispute, employees of Rancho Laguna and their representatives requested a review of their working conditions that address their health and safety. We are swiftly following-up on these concerns, and Rancho Laguna Farms will publicly share commitments to those areas of improvement. We’ll monitor this progress and ensure all commitments are fully implemented.

Driscoll's statement to our newsroom

To read the entire statement, click here.

Rancho Laguna Farms owner Larry Ferini says the farm is following all COVID-19 prevention protocols.

The workers have launched an online petition which has garnered attention across the country, resulting in over 57,000 signatures in a week and half.

Farmworkers from Rancho Laguna Farms, CAUSE and supporting organizations and community members will participate in Tuesday's submission at Driscoll’s Santa Maria located at 1430 South E Street.

Article Topic Follows: Santa Maria - Lompoc - North County
Author Profile Photo

Genelle Padilla

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