Why I Pick Your Lettuce ...
Not many grandmothers could do the work I do six days a week. Most days, I work long shifts under the California sun, weeding and hoeing the lettuce that ends up in produce sections at grocery stores all over America. Many of my friends, neighbors and loved ones are also farm workers. I hear the stories of abuse and mistreatment. and I’ve been there, too. I hope you can help.
Javier Santiago works picking lettuce. Workers like him often handle 20 heads in a minute, about three seconds per head, bent over without standing or stretching. If he asks for a break, his boss yells at him. “Our supervisor exhorts us to work harder and says he does not care if we faint or die ... When it’s very hot, we aren’t allowed to rest in the shade and are pressured more. When it rains, we aren’t allowed to stop working, but aren’t given protective rain gear either.”
Virginia Isidro works in a lettuce field for a farm labor contractor. She has no benefits, no medical insurance, no vacations. And her boss cheats her wages. “When on occasion, we have to work a Sunday, they pay us with a personal check to avoid having to pay us overtime.”
Macario Ramirez works picking berries for one of the many fruit growers in California. He works long hours bent over. One day, his back began hurting so badly he could barely move. His employer insisted he didn’t hurt his back on the job, therefore it wasn’t the company’s problem – and it will be difficult for Macario to collect workers’ comp.
Some people ask me, “Why do people work for these growers? Why do you harvest lettuce at all?” Farm work is hard, but it’s honorable work. I’m proud that I’ve put food on tables all over the country.
I’m very proud that I work at D’Arrigo Brothers under a UFW contract. I am making a decent salary with employer paid health insurance. We even get five paid holidays, including Christmas Day and Thanksgiving. Most of all, the company and supervisors treat us with respect. They know the UFW will always protect farm workers.
I know so many workers like Macario, Javier and Virginia at other farms who are still treated badly and need UFW contracts, too. It doesn’t have to be this way. The company I work for is providing good conditions for us, and it’s still profitable and competitive. It could be this way everywhere. That’s why I’m writing to ask you to please support the UFW.
Olga L. Velarde