Farmworkers Strike, Putting Harvest at Risk
They want better wages, overtime, benefits—and no more abuse of women workers
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 20, 2015 1:18 PM CDT
Luis Reyes, left, and Jacinto Alameda, both indigenous workers from Oaxaca, Mexico, tend blackberry plants on a family farm in Woodburn, Ore., Sept 12, 2006.   (AP Photo/Greg Wahl-Stephens, File)

(Newser) – Cops are scuffling with laborers, protesters have blocked highways, and more than 200 arrests have been made in Mexico this week as farmworkers strike for better wages and working conditions, the Los Angeles Times reports. The strike, which started Tuesday in Baja California, is happening at the peak of harvest season in this agricultural region and is the first such demonstration in decades, the Times notes; some fear the strike could even affect produce meant for US shelves and eateries, KPBS reports. The idea for a strike began germinating after the newspaper published a scathing exposé on export-farm labor abuses in December. Among the farmhands' demands, according to an organizer's statement cited by the AP: overtime pay, benefits, medical care, and an end to sexual harassment, as well as increasing wages that often hover at less than $8 a day.

Some of these companies' supporters say wages in this part of the country are higher than in other Mexican regions, and the businesses themselves refute alleged mistreatment. "Our primary focus continues to be toward the well-being of our employees," a statement from the US-based BerryMex says. But tensions are growing, with witnesses telling the Times that rocks, tear gas, and rubber bullets have flown back and forth between protesters and police; one group of demonstrators even stopped a bus and made passengers stay the night in a church. With a declining peso value exacerbating already tough conditions, farmworkers say whatever the agribusinesses are doing doesn't suffice.