A two-year campaign to organize illegal aliens in the citrus fields of the Sun Belt has resulted in an initial labor contract, including an unusual agreement by the grower to a fund for job development in Mexico as well as the United States.
The contract was negotiated last week between about 300 workers, aided by the Maricopa County Organizing Project, and Goldmar Corp., whose 2,800 acres of citrus groves on the outskirts of Phoenix are partly owned by Robert Gold water, brother of Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.).
Although thousands of illegal aliens are believed to be covered by labor contracts, the Goldmar pact is the first negotiated for a group that is almost exclusively composed of "undocumented workers", according to Guadaloupe Sanchez, who heads the organizing group.
Sanchez said the contract provides housing for workers who previously lived in makeshift camps, health insurance, paid vacations and holidays, health and safety rules, grievance procedures and pay increases, including a 10 percent raise for piecework.
He said the pay rate for a bag of lemons, which was 60 cents when the workers started picketing and striking in 1977 and is now $1.13, will rise to $1.25 next September.
Sanchez said the contract -- covering 300 to 400 workers by his estimate, or 240 workers by Goldmar's estimate -- will be used as a model for negotiations at other ranches where illegal aliens are the mainstay of the harvest work force. He said the ultimate aim is to win contracts for an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 workers in the citrus fields around Phoenix.
The contract provides no explicit protection from Border Patrol raids or deportation, but Sanchez said he expects the stability afforded by a contractual agreement to reduce some of the "hassle" that illegal aliens have learned to live with in the area.
During the organizing campaign, workers accused the Border Patrol of mounting retaliatory raids against picketers and strikers.
Art Mertori, president of Goldmar, said the contract was designed to cover the company's workers regardless of how they came to be in the country. "It's true everywhere, not just here, that undocumented workers are in the fields," Mortori said, adding that all he could say about his work force was that it was "mostly Mexican."
In tailoring the contract to meet the peculiar needs of workers from Mexico, the agreement -- in a departure from the traditional labor contract -- creates an "economic development fund" that can be used to help support labor-intensive ventures in Mexico, Sanchez said.These could include such projects as equipment cooperatives for farming or a brick-making enterprise, he added.
This would, in effect, provide economic incentives for workers to remain in Mexico rather than come to the United States. Some observers see this as the only realistic way of stemming the tide of illegal immigration. It could also give illegal aliens somewhere to turn if their contractual gains wind up making their work attractive to legal residents, thus pricing themselves out of U.S. jobs.
The fund would be financed by a grower contribution of 10 cents per hour per worker, amounting to $15,100 to $20,000 a year from Goldmar, according to Sanchez's estimate.
Martori said the fund will be jointly administered by Goldmar and the workers under conditions still to be worked out. He said the fund, which he termed "rather small" but "a start," could be used for projects in this country as well as Mexico, including citizenship activities.