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Striking Yakima Valley workers, fruit company reach deal

Employees, Allan Bros. agree to continue their talks

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Allan Bros. workers protest along U.S. 12 shortly before coming to an agreement to return to work, Thursday, May 28, 2020, in Naches, Wash., after striking in protest of what they consider unsafe working conditions at several fruit warehouses during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Allan Bros. workers protest along U.S. 12 shortly before coming to an agreement to return to work, Thursday, May 28, 2020, in Naches, Wash., after striking in protest of what they consider unsafe working conditions at several fruit warehouses during the COVID-19 outbreak. (Evan Abell/Yakima Herald-Republic via AP) (evan abell/Yakima Herald-Republic) Photo Gallery

YAKIMA — The workers striking at Allan Bros. in Naches started Thursday with a prayer, just as they have done over the past three weeks.

At noon, they prayed again, this time expressing gratitude for the end of a three-week strike over coronavirus protections and pay.

“!Si se pudo!” the workers yelled at the end of the prayer, which means “yes, we did it!”

The critical component of the agreement is that a committee that represented the workers would be able to continue negotiating on various requests, such as wages, workers said. Allan Bros. implemented a $1 an hour bonus for those working during the coronavirus pandemic, but striking workers had sought $100 a week.

“We still got a lot of work to do,” said Agustin Lopez, who is part of the workers committee.

It was one of several worker strikes at Yakima Valley fruit packing houses this month over coronavirus safety measures and hazard pay.

Allan Bros. workers began striking on May 7, voicing concerns over the company’s response to COVID-19. Allan Bros. met with workers that day and implemented additional safety measures, including masks and face shields.

There were tensions between the company and workers during the strike. Allan Bros. called law enforcement to make sure striking workers remained on public property. Last week, workers filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

The company and workers continued to negotiate and met on Wednesday.

Lopez said while the group was prepared to pursue legal action, it still wanted to work out an agreement with the company.

“We want to work. We are able to work,” he said. “But we were trying to get better (wages) for employees.”

With the agreement in place, striking employees will resume work on Monday, Lopez said.

The complaint with the NLRB is still open, and officials from the regional NLRB office are investigating to determine whether to pursue it, said Lori Isley, an attorney with Columbia Legal Services, which assisted the Allan Bros. workers in the filing.

If NLRB decides to prosecute, then the complaint would be heard by an administrative law judge.

CEO Miles Kohl said the company is committed to evolving safety practices as they learn more and continued conversations with both the Yakima Health District and employees. He said that the company would negotiate in good faith regarding pay.

“We’ll listen to our employees and what their issues are,” he said.

Lopez, who spoke mostly in English but made some statements in Spanish through an interpreter, said he was happy that he and his colleagues were able to speak out and advocate for Allan Bros. employees.

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