Baja California farm workers strike for higher pay, better conditions

Laborers from the Valle de San Quintin protest on the side of the main highway south of Ensenada. Workers from about 60 farms in the area walked off their jobs on March 16. (Omar Millan/Associated Press)
Laborers from the Valle de San Quintin protest on the side of the main highway south of Ensenada. Workers from about 60 farms in the area walked off their jobs on March 16. (Omar Millan/Associated Press)

By Omar Millan / AP

Workers at large, export-oriented farms in the Mexican border state of Baja California have led a week of violent protests over low pay, abuses and poor conditions, threatening a harvest that supplies millions of dollars worth of tomatoes, strawberries and other crops to the United States.

Burning tires and tossing rocks at vehicles, hundreds of farmworkers have blocked Baja’s main north-south highway on and off, and as many as 50,000 are believed to be on strike statewide as of Tuesday.

Baja California Gov. Francisco Vega said over the weekend that the harvest — and thousands of jobs — were at risk. “If the fields continue without a workforce, the harvests will be lost and that will affect everyone who depends on this part of the economy,” his office said in a press statement.

Many of the workers are migrants from southern Mexican states like Guerrero and Oaxaca who toil at huge hot-house farms just south of Ensenada. Their demands — health care, overtime pay, days off, an end to abuse by field bosses and more pay than the $8 many earn for a full day of stoop-labor — echo those of farmworkers 40 years ago in the United States.

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