I could tell you about the canned food drive that my students in the Solution to Violence class organized at St. Bonaventure High School in support of the Pictsweet farm workers.
A union organizer and mushroom picker visited my classroom a few weeks ago and told their stories of meetings with bosses, supervisors and high-level officials, of working through the manure fire despite health hazards and of the hardships in working for an oppressive and inconsiderate corporation.
My Compassionate students-in their final week before graduation, when most other seniors had finals, graduation parties and college on their minds-were making posters, announcements and changes in their psyches and in our community on behalf of people whose cause needs to be heard.
I could tell you about the companies who continue to buy Pictsweet mushrooms in spite of the boycott against the company.
Pizza Hut, Sam’s Club, Red Lobster and Papa John’s are just a few of the businesses whose patronage allows Pictsweet management to continue to take advantage of its workers. Yet Vons has taken heed of the injustices and has agreed to stop buying Pictsweet mushrooms.
The March fire was the result of a pileup of unused compost. The compost piled up because of the boycott’s success-and yet, Pictsweet management refuses to negotiate with its workers even in the face of an environmental catastrophe that affects the soil, water and air of our community. Although various companies have canceled orders of mushrooms, Pictsweet continues its operations with business as usual, and the mushrooms are picked, packaged and then discarded. Pictsweet management has repeatedly denied requests to negotiate with the workers.
I could tell you how corporate globalization has gone local.
Powerful corporations capitalize on keeping their consumers ignorant about where their food and services originate. We are not accustomed to questioning the working conditions or lives nor the attitudes or practices of the institutions that regulate the industry. Unfortunately, we are absent when the supervisor condescends to tell the workers that they smell when they come to negotiate or when the organizers and workers are made to wait indefinitely for an appointment to discuss the lack of a contract.
We are not present when supervisors deny compensation for on-the-job accidents, and we are not around when the vision of Pictsweet workers deteriorates due to inadequate lighting on the hats they wear. Profits are more important than people when workers must continue working, ignorant of the fire’s hazards even as the rest of the community had been informed of its dangers six days prior.
As a community, we can fight the systemic injustices that transpire at the local level, with Pictsweet, and at the international level, as seen in the unjust policies of the World Bank/International Monetary Fund. “Human need, not corporate greed” is the rallying cry of those working to bring accountability to big business.
I could tell you about the integrity of the media and about the importance of objectively and comprehensively covering the scope of the injustices transpiring at Pictsweet.
But instead, I will tell you how you can help. You can respect the livelihood and integrity of the Pictsweet workers by boycotting the aforementioned companies. You can support the United Farm Workers by insisting that a contract between the workers and management be reached. You can demand that the workers be given a raise greater than the last-a three-cent-per-hour increase in the late 1980s. You can support the fund-raisers at Café on A in Oxnard, the proceeds of which go toward helping the cause of the workers. You can help raise awareness in your own community and let other people know the transgressions of Pictsweet.
Like my students did, you too can make a difference.
*Leah C. Wells is Peace Education Coordinator at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.