Us vs. Stem
Workers on organic farms are treated as poorly as their conventional counterparts
By Jason Mark
02 Aug 2006
When Elena Ortiz found a job on an organic raspberry farm after working for nine years in conventionally farmed fields, she was glad for the change. The best part about her new job was that she no longer had to work just feet away from tractors spraying chemical herbicides and pesticides. An added bonus was the fruit itself—“prettier,” she said, and firmer, which made it easier to pick.
But when it came to how Ortiz was treated by her employers, little was different. Her pay remained meager: $500 a week at peak berry-picking season, but as little as $200 a week during much of the year, leaving her and her farmworker husband with little money to buy fruits and vegetables for their five children. The supervisors at her farm, Reiter Berry, were often “aggressive” and capricious. Rules were arbitrary; workers were sometimes closely monitored, but sometimes allowed to work independently. They were, said Ortiz, assigned to “better or worse rows”—all depending on the whims of the supervisors.
When organizers from the United Farm Workers encouraged the Reiter employees to form a union, the company allegedly responded with intimidation and harassment.