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Farmworker conditions at center of proposed berry boycott

Tom Wilmer

  An ongoing push for improved working conditions in berry fields along the West Coast is set for ramp-up in the coming weeks.

The movement is targeting a Central Coast-based Driscoll's and being led by two groups of farmworkers, one in Washington State, the other in Baja California.

Michael Gasser is with a boycott support committee in Santa Cruz and said he supports the boycott because of the employees' working and living conditions, and because the growers refuse to negotiate with their unions.

On Friday afternoon, the group will picket and hand out information in front of a Santa Cruz Whole Foods. He says he hopes local grocers will eventually take the berries off the shelves. 

Driscoll's gave comment to KCBX in an email. 

"As a family-owned company with more than 100 years of farming heritage, we take our responsibility seriously when it comes to how our independent growers treat their farm workers. As such, we are disappointed that Driscoll’s continues to be unfairly targeted with secondary boycotts and dissemination of misinformation. The simple truth is Driscoll’s has and will continue to demonstrate leadership in the agriculture industry by facilitating initiatives and standards which support socially responsible business practices, including worker welfare," Driscoll's said.

Gasser said the company's recent efforts related to worker welfare do not properly take care of the problem.

"The main demand is that the growers come to the bargaining table with the workers unions and negotiate a contract. That's the only way that these very vulnerable people can protect themselves," said Gasser.

He said the group will continue to picket in front of different stores for several weeks and the farm worker unions plan to tour the Central Coast soon, including Santa Maria.