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The Ventura County Star, West County Edition

Sunday September 2, 2001

By Andrea Cavanaugh, Staff Writer


Actor Mike Farrell joined more than 300 people who marched through Ventura on Saturday to show support for Pictsweet mushroom farm workers.
The march ended with a rally at the Olivas Adobe, where speakers demanded that Pictsweet negotiate a contract to guarantee the workers better wages and benefits.

"We need a major victory for immigrant workers," United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez told the crowd. "They pay taxes like everybody else. They work hard like everybody else.

"They don't even have enough to feed their families."

Farrell, who starred in the television series "M*A*S*H*" from 1975 to 1983 and now plays Dr. Jim Hansen on NBC's "Providence," said he has been a supporter of the UFW for more than 30 years.

"I think we're talking about fundamental fairness. I've always believed that the American people are fair," Farrell said during the march. "I think the public knows that they can show their support by buying a brand other than Pictsweet."

Pictsweet officials did not return phone calls Saturday.

Many of the marchers waved red flags embossed with a black eagle, the symbol of the United Farm Workers Union, and chanted "Si se puede (it can be done)."

"I've given them my whole life," said Javier Luna, 39, who has worked at Pictsweet for more than 20 years. "They make a lot of promises but none of it is true."

Luna said he has seen his standard of living fall steadily during the years he has worked for Pictsweet.

"I made more money in 1980 than I do today," he said. "And now everything costs more."

"They don't care about the workers," said mushroom picker Carlos Plasencia, 40. "All they care about is making money and themselves."

The state Agricultural Labor Relations Board found earlier this year that company supervisors encouraged workers to sign a decertification election petition against the union, promoted a worker who signed the petition and committed other unfair labor practices. Pictsweet has denied the ALRB's findings.

Pictsweet officials have also said in the past that the majority of the company's workers don't support the UFW.

Luna estimated that only about 20 percent of Pictsweet workers are against the union.

The workers, who are paid by the basket and make the equivalent of about $7 per hour, are asking for a pay increase of four cents per basket, or about 60 cents per hour, as well as dental and vision insurance and a pension program.

"They're not asking for something extravagant," said Jaime Casillas, a dean at Oxnard College who joined the march. "The economy of Ventura County was born on the backs of farm workers -- we need to treat them with respect and dignity."