Stoll Farms has 3,000 dairy cows in northeastern Ohio. Working the farm are mostly natives of Mexico. They say they were not treated fairly. It started with one firing, then another, and quickly the number ballooned to eight in a matter of six months. The company also reduced its starting wage from $8.50 to $7.50. When a new manager fired an injured co-worker who couldn't work fast enough, Jorge Espinoza asked his colleagues--about forty other immigrant laborers--to stop working. Espinoza then went to owner Edward Stoll with some questions.
"He wouldn't talk to me as a representative of all of us," says Espinoza. "He told us to leave if we didn't talk to him one on one."
The workers formed their own union, United Dairyworkers of Ohio, Local 1. They went on strike November 2, and their demands include regular wage increases, grievance procedures, and an end to paycheck deductions for workplace accidents.
The workers, with help from the Immigrant Worker Project nearby, first tried to find backing from major unions like the Farm Labor Organizing Committee and the United Food and Commercial Workers. Despite words of solidarity, however, such unions hesitated to send resources to a small band of workers--no more than fifty--in a remote area.
Organizing dairy farm workers is a challenge. Like other agricultural workers in the U.S., they have no official rights to form a union, bargain collectively, or confront employers--rights granted to workers in most other industries under the National Labor Relations Act. And immigrant workers fear deportation if they sign up.
There are more than three million directly hired farm workers, 80 percent of whom are from Mexico, according to the U.S. Departments of Labor and Agriculture. Fewer than 30,000 farm workers are organized, advocates say.
The odds aren't great for the Ohio workers, and the picket line has already proved grueling. Under no obligation to recognize the strike as legal, Stoll Farms instead obtained a court injunction against the workers that permits only two people to picket per entrance. They also trucked in Guatemalan replacement workers from Georgia.
Most workers have had to find part-time jobs to pay the bills. A few have returned to their hometowns in Mexico. On the other hand, a strike fund has collected more than $4,000, which helps with groceries and rent.
"These strikers are settling into a long-term strategy," says Jeff Stewart, an activist with the Immigrant Workers Project. "Even though they know that very few of them may benefit in the long run, they think it's time to take a stand."
Lawyers for Stoll Farms did not return calls for comment.
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|Title Annotation:||On the Line; Stoll Farms|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2005|
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