7/17/07

Gov. welcomes first UFW contract in Oregon

The United Farm Workers and Threemile Canyon Farms - at 93,000 acres one of the largest dairying operations in the region - ended years of often-bitter conflict on Monday by announcing a three-year labor agreement. It was the UFW's first contract in Oregon and the largest agricultural work agreement ever reached in the state. Gov. Ted Kulongoski had favored an agreement, saying it could provide a stable framework for Oregon's agricultural sector.

“This is an important milestone for Threemile Canyon Farms,” said Marty Myers, general manager at Oregon's largest dairy operation, which employs about 250 mostly Hispanic workers. He said it ends all disputes and provides for internal resolution of future conflicts.

Some employees had filed lawsuits alleging wrongful firing and gender discrimination.

“Just as we remember our past,” said Arturo Rodriguez, UFW President, “we recognize that this agreement blazes a new agricultural path into the 21st century.”

“We look forward to working with Threemile Canyon Farms and joining in the promotion of their fine agricultural products.”

During the dispute, which began with the UFW's first organizing attempts in 2003, the union urged companies not to buy from Threemile Canyon, located near the Columbia River town of Boardman about 150 miles east of Portland.

A major dairy client for Threemile Canyon, which began operations in 2000, has been the Tillamook cheese factory on the Oregon Coast.

Key provisions of the new labor contract define mutual rights and obligations. Neither side can take labor issues to third parties not associated with the company or the union and the contract provides for a family medical plan. It makes provisions for employee advancement and training and establishes a code of employee conduct.

The contract represents the first large-scale union contract on an Oregon farm, although the Woodburn-based Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United, or PCUN, has signed several smaller contracts in the Willamette Valley.

Threemile Canyon talks were complicated by the fact that Oregon has no collective-bargaining laws for farm workers. Attempts to pass such laws usually failed because unions considered them as unduly favoring farmers.

Steve Witte, the union's regional director for the Pacific Northwest, said Monday that a number of factors led to the agreement but said the immigration issue played a key role.

Big agriculture, he said, is concerned about a decreasing traditional workforce because of the border situation.

However the immigration issue settles out, he said, agriculture will have to begin looking at things in a new way.

“For agriculture to compete locally and globally you need a steady workforce,” he said.

“Threemile Canyon is not unskilled labor. Workers have specific and not easily replaced skills. It becomes a matter of protecting that workforce.”

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