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Farm union pact doesn’t end debate

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

DairyCows.jpg BOARDMAN Oregon’s largest dairy farm has struck a collective-bargaining deal with United Farm Workers, marking the state’s first large-scale farm unionization. The three-year agreement for the 250 dairy workers at Threemile Canyon Farms includes a 7.5% salary increase over three years, family medical benefits, a pension plan and double the previous vacation time, according to Erik Nicholson, director of the guest worker program at UFW.

Tim Bernasek of the Oregon Farm Bureau says the Threemile deal raises more questions than answers for Oregon’s 150,000 agriculture workers. “It doesn’t get at the central issue,” says Bernasek.

Like most states, Oregon has no regulations governing the process of unionizing farms. The agreement marks a historic deal — but for Threemile only, according to Len Bergstein, spokesman for the farm, which is in Boardman and produces 160,000 gallons of milk every day. “Nothing has been solved for the rest of agriculture.”

Threemile and UFW arrived at the deal in mid-July after weathering four years of negotiations. UFW began unionizing efforts in 2003 when dairy workers cited poor working conditions and low pay.

During negotiations, UFW went to some of Threemile’s clients including the Tillamook County Creamery Association, which buys two-thirds of Threemile’s milk, urging them to help grease the negotiation process.

The farm bureau’s Bernasek claims the UFW went a “backwards” route by approaching the farm’s customers rather than “winning the hearts and minds of the workers” to gain union recognition and settle a collective-bargaining agreement.

A system without rules stating the rights of farm workers or union protocol for organizing farms is “ripe for intimidation,” Bergstein says. “We’re in the wild, wild West.”  

EUNICE LEE

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