Strikes continued at six fruit packing houses Monday, though not without some pushback.
Hansen Fruit workers had to relocate after the company prohibited activity at a previous site near the plant’s parking lot off East Washington Avenue, said Edgar Franks, political director at Familias Unidas por la Justicia, a farmworkers union based in Skagit County. Workers moved to an area in front of the plant on East Mead Avenue.
Workers are seeking, among several things, more assurances that officials are following social distancing and cleaning procedures, and hazard pay.
The union has been in the Yakima Valley since May 8 to assist workers in strikes, which started last week. However, the union and other groups supporting the strikes said workers at individual plants are leading the strikes. The plants do not have unions.
Meanwhile, at Allan Bros. in Naches, strikers had to find new places to park their cars after a nearby public park became unavailable, Franks said.
“It’s making it more difficult for people to show up,” he said about these recent incidents.
Neither Hansen Fruit nor Allan Bros. returned phone calls or emails requesting comment Monday. The plants are operating.
Allan Bros. CEO Miles Kohl previously said the plant closed for several days to evaluate its COVID-19 response. The closure came after listening to workers’ concerns on May 7, when workers started their strike. During the closure, the company invited the Yakima Health District to evaluate the company’s safety measures, Kohl said.
The company also distributed new face shields when the plant resumed operations a week ago.
Hansen Fruit president and owner Eric Hansen said last week in an emailed statement that the strike came as a shock as the facility had no confirmed cases of COVID-19. He also said the company has provided personal protective equipment to employees free of charge as it became available, restricted hiring to prevent exposure from workers at facilities with COVID-19 cases, and intensified cleaning efforts.
There were also some people expressing opposition to the strikes at the sites. At Monson Fruit in Selah, Rick Messer, 66, waved a sign in support of the fruit company on Monday.
“If you could get inside, you’d see how good they are at cleaning the building. That was before the virus,” said Messer, who said he worked at the company previously and said he applied to work for the upcoming cherry harvest.
Meanwhile, a truck was spotted driving by striking workers at Matson Fruit. A large sign in Spanish was displayed in front of the truck. Striking workers had been sharing the photo.
“Return to work,” the sign said. “Your fear is the virus that is attacking our civil rights. Free yourself!” The sign also had the phrases “Save America!” and “What Would Jesus Do?”
Franks said workers have reported company officials walking outside and taking photos of striking workers. He said he has encouraged workers to remain firm and calm.
Worker committees from each of the fruit packing houses met Monday afternoon to discuss strategies and also to encourage each other, Franks said.
“We’re just telling people to be vigilant and document everything that’s happening,” Franks said.
There was also strike activity from orchard workers for Brandt and Sons in Wapato, Franks said. However, the activity ended after a few hours when workers agreed to talks with the company.
Brandt and Sons did not return a phone call seeking comment before publication.