By Richard Marosi.
Baja California farmworker leaders and the Mexican government reached a tentative agreement Thursday that would boost wages and guarantee government-required benefits to thousands of laborers, in an apparent breakthrough aimed at ending the nearly two-month-long labor dispute.
In an unprecedented move, Mexico's federal government agreed to pay part of the workers' wages in order to meet their demands for a minimum daily wage of 200 pesos, or about $13.
"This is an agreement that will help us construct an orderly, peaceful, respectful and responsible way to provide a better quality of life for those workers who live in the valley of San Quintin," Baja California Gov. Francisco Vega de Lamadrid said after 18 hours of tense negotiations in Ensenada.
The deal won't be formalized until a signing ceremony June 4 and some key negotiations remain, mainly to determine the industry and government's share of the wage increase. Some observers remained skeptical, noting that the language of the agreement didn't guarantee that the workers' wage demands would be met.
Even so, farmworker leaders struck a positive note as they were greeted by thousands of cheering laborers upon their return from Ensenada to San Quintin on Thursday morning.
The announcement came after weeks of stalled talks and increasingly violent clashes between protesters and police.
In a key concession, the government agreed to ensure that every laborer in the region 200 miles south of San Diego would have access to social security benefits, which provide pensions and healthcare. Some of the region's largest agribusinesses for years have been denying the benefits, which are required by law.
A summary of the 13-point agreement distributed by the Baja California governor's office says that government and industry representatives will try to reach consensus on a minimum daily wage that comes "as close as possible" to workers' demands.
Negotiations between the government and industry representatives were continuing Thursday. "To our knowledge, all parties involved have not come to a mutual resolution," said Alfredo Arvizu, a spokesman for BerryMex, a major grower for Driscoll's, the world's largest berry distributor.
Erik Nicholson, national vice president of the United Farm Workers, which has sent representatives to Mexico to monitor the discussions, said he is unaware of the Mexican government ever agreeing to subsidize farmworker wages. "They have not achieved the 200-peso goal yet," Nicholson said.
The labor standoff, which began in mid-March with laborers blocking the region's main highway to export markets, had been growing increasingly tense in recent weeks. Dozens of protesters were injured Saturday by police firing rubber bullets in clashes that were broadcast across the country.
Richard Marosi. LA Times.