The struggle by San Quintín farmworkers for a better salary and better working conditions seemed all but settled just a few days ago. A June 4 agreement between the workers and federal officials would see the formation of an inclusive commission that would rank the 122 farm owners in the Baja California region into daily salary categories, ranging from 150 to 180 pesos (US $9.2 to $11).
On Tuesday August 12th, Labor Secretary Alfonso Navarrete announced that the categorization was complete.
Yesterday, farmworkers’ spokesman Fidel Sánchez said it wasn’t and rejected the Labor Secretary’s announcement.
“To this day, we haven’t been invited to be part of that farm-categorizing commission. We therefore disavow Mr. Navarrete’s announcement,” he told Milenio TV.
In his announcement, Navarrete said that of the 122 farms in the San Quintín Valley, 19 have been categorized as level A, meaning that daily salaries for their workers will be 180 pesos; 39 have been designated level B, with a salary of 165 pesos; and 64 ranked at level C, paying 150 pesos.
Senator Fidel Demédicis, member of a Senate commission that has been participating in the negotiations between farmworkers and federal and state officials, accused Navarrete of “setting on fire a conflict that was all but settled.”
The legislator said Sánchez had warned Interior Undersecretary Luis Miranda about the worker’s exclusion from the categorization meetings. “[The authorities’] word was pledged and signed upon. We’re surprised that they have now announced the categorization is done without taking the farmworkers’ opinion into consideration,” said Demédicis.
On October 15 last year, the San Quintín farmworkers delivered a list of demands to the Baja California state government and on March 17 of this year, they went on strike. On May 14, an agreement to improve working conditions was signed while their main demand, an increase in salaries, was to be defined on June 4.
That day, the parties agreed to the creation of a commission that would include the Labor Secretariat, the Social Security Institute and the National Alliance of State and Municipal Organizations for Social Justice, whose role would be to establish the farm categories.
It is from that commission that the farmworkers say they were excluded.
Sánchez said some employers increased their salaries in March, but they have also increased their employees’ workload.
“Working days are now longer. Each farmworker was assigned 10 to 12 rows or grooves. They now have to work 16 to 20 rows per day, in workdays of 10 to 12 hours, corresponding to the 15% salary increase they were given,” he claimed.
He also repeated an earlier threat to promote a boycott of San Quintín produce in the U.S.
Senator Demédicis believes the farmworkers are in the right in rejecting the announcement made by the Labor Secretary: “they are not protesting because they want to, but because the authorities provoked it.”
Demédicis said the legislative commission to which he belongs can only intervene upon a direct request from the farmworkers but that he would, in the meantime, approach the Interior Secretariat: “I will ask Undersecretary Luis Miranda that the agreements be fulfilled.”
The initial demand of the San Quintín farmworkers was for a 300-peso (US $18) daily salary. The agreement signed with the authorities was to negotiate for as close to 200 pesos as they could. They also demanded that seniority be honored, the payment of a Christmas bonus, vacation pay and vacation premiums, yearly profit sharing and double-pay on holidays, among other benefits.