For years, the people who pick your strawberries, tomatoes, and cucumbers have been making $8 to $10 a day.
Not, an hour, a day.
Mostly in Baja, California, the workers are trapped in rat-infested camps for months at a time with inconsistent access to plumbing, or even beds, according to a recent L.A. Times investigation. According to some Mexican media reports, these workers face “modern slavery” conditions.
Following weeks of strikes and violent protests earlier this year, farmworker leaders, industry officials, and government representatives were set to meet today to finalize a wage increase to $13 a day, and an improvement in conditions.
But the agreement is not assured, because it is likely to have implications for the entire Mexican economy.
According to Gaspar Rivera Salgado Project Director at the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education, Mexican government leaders fear the country’s long-running economic model of outside investment in exchange for “peace and low wages” will be undermined by the Baja movement.
"There’s been a vacuum in terms of political leadership to enter into a process that could cause [more] unrest,” he said.
Business leaders are also hesitating, the L.A. Times’ Richard Marosi reports.
“A leading business figure in Baja California called the proposal absurd in a recent interview with the Mexican newspaper Milenio. ‘What if all businesses and all the workers of Mexico asked for subsidies,’ said Adrian Olea Mendivil, president of the Baja California Commerce Coordinating Council.”
You can see some of the footage of the protests, which reached their climax in March, here:
An investigation by Marosi in December found that food giants including Whole Foods and Walmart can trace their produce to Baja farms whose laborers sleep in windowless rooms on scraps of cardboard. Whole Foods said it would stop buying from the grower when presented with Marosi’s findings. Walmart said it could not “ catch every instance when people do things that are wrong."
Another target has been Berrymex, a unit of U.S. agriculture giant Driscoll’s. Although Berrymex’s treatment of workers has received praise from the government, workers have told the L.A. Times that the company often pays less than it says it does. While Berrymex has strongly denied the allegations, a Driscoll’s spokesman told Reuters last month it was going to start scrutinizing conditions more carefully.
"We're going to go back and look at them again and reevaluate them and put in some improvements," Kevin Murphy told Reuters’ Edgard Garrido and Lizbeth Diaz.
As of 4 p.m. Thursday, negotiations were still continuing, Rivera Salgado said.