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Farmworkers strike for better wages in Nipomo; employers dispute claims of unfair wages

Francisco Martinez
Workers strike for better wages in Nipomo on July 2.

Strawberry field workers in San Luis Obispo County striked for a second day July 2, demanding better wages.

Workers are demanding West Coast Berry Farms pay them $14 hourly wages, $1.25 per strawberry box and $2 per unit of juice.

The strike was organized by the farm workers and received a publicity boost on Instagram from the Mixteco Indígena Community Organizing Project.

Strikers, present since 5:30 a.m., received an offer around two hours later from a West Coast Berry Farms representative for $2.40 per strawberry box and $2 per juice unit, but no hourly wage, according to community organizer Fernando Martinez.

"So they want the other third — the third side of the deal," Martinez said. "They want the last part, which is $14 an hour plus the additional two — what they already raised." He added, "At the end of the day, we're here to support the workers."

Other support came from community members. Cody King was one of those present in support.

The Lucia Mar Unified School District teacher and president of the Lucia Mar Unified Teachers Association said he understood the need to fight for better wages and conditions.

"It’s something that all workers need to be doing, so I want to come out here and support whatever industry it is when they are fighting for their rights," King said.

Francisca Salvador Cruz, a field worker on strike, dropped her son off with a babysitter to attend the strike.

"I came here to support because many of my fellow workers are in the furrows and don't want to support us," Salvador Cruz said.

Another worker, a man who wishes to remain anonymous for fears of repercussions, said the struggles here are similar to other farms he's worked for. The man has been at the farm for around a month.

"There's a lot of injustice wherever," the man said, speaking generally about the farming industry. "And if you ask for something, well, they simply ignore you. They retaliate against you. They look for a way to keep you quiet."

Cindy Jewell, the director of marketing and communications at Bobalu — West Coast Berry Farm's parent company — disputed the claims made by the farmworker regarding retaliation.

"I don't believe that at all," Jewell said. "And I don't believe that whoever said that was probably a real employee of Bobalu."

Jewell said Bobalu is a legitimate employer and has a human resources department.

"There's a process if someone has a legitimate complaint against a supervisor or a fellow employee," Jewell said. "There's a process just like where you work, there's a process that you go through if you're unhappy, or scared or fearful for your job."

Jewell said on top of Bobalu giving medical, dental and sick time, Bobalu never pays less than $20 an hour if the worker is being paid a straight hourly wage.

Workers are paid by tray at this time of year, but Jewell said the way workers are paid can change throughout the year.

"Different times of the year they're paid by the hour, sometimes they're getting paid hourly plus fees," Jewell said. "It all depends on the volume coming off the field and negotiations with them."

Francisco Martinez joined KCBX in January 2021 as a substitute staff announcer, then became a regular midday host, occasional reporter, and host of Citizen Sound — the alternative music show each Sunday night at 11:00 on KCBX. Francisco left KCBX to move back to the Bay Area in January 2022.
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