(This article originally appeared on Real Change and has been reprinted under an agreement.)
Across Skagit County and Seattle, hundreds of workers and their families marched and celebrated International Workers Day, popularly known as May Day. Organizers highlighted the struggle for better wages and conditions as well as a variety of other progressive causes.
Since time immemorial, Indigenous people have celebrated storytelling as a way to connect the present to past lessons and future dreaming. Narrative sovereignty is a form of land guardianship, and Nia Tero supports this work through its storytelling initiatives, including the Seedcast podcast, as well as in this monthly column for media partner the South Seattle Emerald.
I grew up in the 1980s in Texas in a family of migrant farmworkers. We spent half of the year in Texas; the other half of the year we lived in Washington State. When I was about 6 or 7, my mom settled in Skagit County, and I’ve been here pretty much ever since then. At age 10, I joined my family members at work. I grew up in the fields and stayed there for a decade and a half.
These days I spend most of my time serving as the political director for an independent farmworker union called Familias Unidas por La Justicia (FUJ). While most people associate unions with strikes, work stoppages, and picket lines, my day-to-day job at FUJ is based in quieter activities. I mostly talk one-on-one with members of the union, whom I consider to be my bosses, prioritizing my tasks based on what they need. I help with work-related problems but also rent-related or immigration-related issues. Care for our members extends past the fields and into the lives of their families.
In June, for example, we focused on getting ready for berry harvesting season — strawberry, raspberry, and blueberry — going out to sites of employment and letting workers know about their rights. When it’s safe to travel, I also represent the union across the state and country as well as around the world, coordinating initiatives with partners then reporting back to our executive committee and our workers. I enjoy my work and the people I get to work for. I’m lucky.
Farmworkers are striking for their families and for everyone in Washington State. Without receiving the necessary protections for COVID-19, they pose a danger to the ones they love — and that is simply unjust.
Four-hundred and fifty farmworkers at six different fruit packaging plants have decided to protect their lives and health with the only option they have left: strikes, pickets and hunger strikes. They are demanding protections from COVID-19, hazard pay, and an end to retaliation from management. This is all taking place in the county with the highest rate of COVID-19 cases spiking on the West Coast.