Over the past few months, disgruntled employees have had increasing success in bringing attention to their plight. At a series of press conferences late this past summer, employees talked about how inexperienced fork-truck drivers had backed into employees, and how Pictsweet had bought roughly 21 Mercedes as company cars, while complaining there was no money for wage increases. In response to calls for boycotts, food giants like Safeway and Fred Meyer refused to buy Pictsweet mushrooms.
But now labor organizers face the vexing question of what happens when their boycotts are so successful that they chase the employer out of town. In September, Pictsweet said that the Oregon farm had been losing money for three years and announced its plan to close by November.
With the prospect of unemployment, the 314 mushroom pickers and plant workers are scrambling to insure that this closure is not just another insult in a long line of abuses. They want to receive a severance package, unemployment pay, and job training.
But a spokesperson for PCUN, a local labor organizer, also said that there is suspicion that the plant will close and re-open later under a new name. Under that scenario, unemployed workers will have no recourse for unemployment benefits.
"They obviously don't want to lose jobs," said the spokesperson, "but at the same time there's not a lot of remorse if this is what it takes to stop the abuse."
"Too often these conflicts are reduced to pure economics," continued the spokesperson. "There's also pride and respect."
On October 26 to 29, PCUN will sponsor a symposium on union efforts for migrant worker at Chemeketa Community College. For more information, contact 982-0243.