Tuesday, June 2, 2020
June 2, 2020

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Yakima Valley fruit company workers continue to strike

Employees seek assurances over safety, hazard pay

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A striking worker holds a sign that reads "respect and protection to the worker" in Spanish on Wednesday in front of Matson Fruit in Selah.
A striking worker holds a sign that reads "respect and protection to the worker" in Spanish on Wednesday in front of Matson Fruit in Selah. (Photos by evan abell/Yakima Herald-Republic) Photo Gallery

YAKIMA — More than 30 Allan Bros. workers continued their walkout Tuesday, with two workers starting a hunger strike.

Workers from the Naches-based fruit warehouse have been on strike since May 7.

Just after noon Tuesday, Maribel Medina and Cesar Traverso started a hunger strike. The striking workers — along with several outside supporters — marked the occasion with a small ceremony. It included a prayer over Medina and Traverso and the reading of a meditation by Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers.

Traverso came up with the idea, said Agustin Lopez, an Allan Bros. employee who is part of a committee representing the strikers.

“We’re here to support him,” he said.

Lopez said the company had not directly spoken to workers since May 14, when officials offered to pay them an additional $1 an hour for seven weeks. The striking workers want a raise of $100 a week.

“They don’t want to negotiate,” Lopez said.

Workers are seeking, among several things, more assurances that officials are following social distancing and cleaning procedures, and hazard pay.

In an email to the Yakima Herald-Republic, Allan Bros. CEO Miles Kohl said the company has started paying workers the additional $1 an hour, effective the week of May 5.

Kohl also said that all employees have been issued face masks and face shields and have implemented recommendations made by the Yakima Health District after a May 8 site visit.

When asked whether Allan Bros. would take any additional actions if there is a prolonged strike, Kohl said the company plans on holding jobs for striking workers who choose to return to work.

However, the company called in the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office both Monday and Tuesday to ensure that workers are remaining on public property, said sheriff’s spokesman Casey Schilperoort.

Company officials also asked workers not to park in the Allan Bros. parking lot if they are striking, he said.

Schilperoort said the sheriff’s office has responded to several calls related to strike activity at Allan Bros.

One involved a man who approached striking workers May 14 and said he would come back with a gun and shoot them.

The 58-year-old man was arrested for malicious harassment after he returned to the site and said he made the threat. Prosecutors have not filed charges, Schilperoort said.

According to Schilperoort, police records show the man was arrested and charged with malicious harassment in 2019 when he fired a gun at three Hispanic males.

Walkouts continue

Workers at Monson Fruit and Matson Fruit in Selah and Columbia Reach Pack, Frosty Packing and Hansen Fruit in Yakima also continued strikes Tuesday.

In a Tuesday email to the Herald-Republic, owner Eric Hansen said he planned to speak with workers, though he was not able to meet with them Tuesday. Hansen Fruit officials met with workers May 14 when they went on strike.

Hansen wrote that the company is starting to see “quite a few” striking employees return to work.

Julieta Pulido, a Columbia Reach Pack worker, said she and a group of workers met with human resource manager Kerri Lovelass on Monday and provided her a list of their demands.

On Tuesday morning, she was waiting for a response regarding a possible meeting with the packing house’s owners.

Pulido said there are about 40 people who are continuing to strike, though a few have decided to return to work because they could not afford to keep going.

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