Updated May 12, 2016: Official comment from Driscoll’s.
International Workers’ Day drew a crowd of people to march down Blackstone Avenue on Sunday for the annual May Day March in central Fresno.
About 70 people marched from Manchester Center to Shaw and Blackstone avenues chanting in English and Spanish.
The people marched to support wage increases for the working class. California recently struck a deal that will bring the minimum wage to $15 per hour nationwide by 2022.
Juan Avitia is a high school teacher with Madera Unified. He’s also a Fresno State alum who ran La Voz de Aztlán, the Chicano-Latino supplemental newspaper that appears in The Collegian twice a semester.
“I think what people don’t realize is just how much energy people exert and how much blood, sweat and tears goes into producing a product or providing a service,” Avitia said. “And to not recognize that and to not want to say ‘give people a better wage or give people safer working conditions or benefits’ — it’s a disservice and it’s an embarrassment because we have a certain standard of living here.”
Avitia said the group of mostly-Latino marchers aren’t fans of the presidential frontrunners Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
“The truth is we’re non-partisan. We’ve come to realize that both parties — they’ll say what they need to to be elected,” Avitia said. “But Donald Trump represents the epitome of what’s wrong with us. [He’s] putting profits over people, and that’s not fair. His direct statement is that the national minimum wage is already too high. The guy is a billionaire; he lives in luxury; he can say that.”
On April 3, Trump did a Town Hall with Greta Van Susteren. When asked a question about the Fight for $15 movement, he said raising the minimum wage, which is nationally at $7.25 per hour, isn’t the way to go. He said he’s going to back high-paying jobs to America, instead.
“The minimum wage is a very, very complex situation because we are a non-competitive country,” Trump said. “If you look at what’s going on throughout the world, one of the big problems we have are wages. I’m gonna make our country so competitive that people at minimum wage are going to escape the minimum wage — they are going to go up, and they’re gonna make a lot of money and they’re gonna have companies and be involved with companies that are really successful where they can be paid more and more money.”
Trump continued, “If you start raising the minimum wage, you can make a lot of our companies even more non-competitive, and it would be a big, big problem. But what I want to do, is I want to bring jobs back. We’re gonna bring jobs back from China. We’re gonna bring jobs back from Mexico and Japan…”
The march was also to encourage people to boycott Driscoll’s — a berry distributor. Avitia said that the subcontractors that Driscoll’s hires create terrible working conditions.
“You’ve got 70,000 workers that walked out last year because conditions are horrendous. Women are being sexually assaulted — raped. The children as young as 8 are out there with their parents and working in these hard working conditions. And they don’t work for $7 an hour; they work for $7 a day.”
Driscoll’s responded to the allegations of worker mistreatment — denying the claims.
“As a family-owned company with more than 100 years of farming heritage, we take our responsibility seriously when it comes to how our independent growers treat their farm workers,” a Driscoll’s representative said. “As such, we are disappointed that Driscoll’s continues to be unfairly targeted with dissemination of misinformation, secondary boycotts and false accusations, including those regarding the abuse of workers and child labor.”
“Our worker welfare standards, which place a premium on worker safety and feature a zero tolerance policy towards the use of child labor and the abuse of workers, are built upon those introduced by global labor organizations and can be found at www.Driscolls.com/workerwelfare,” Driscoll’s said.
“The simple truth is, Driscoll’s has and will continue to demonstrate leadership in the agriculture industry by facilitating initiatives and standards which support socially responsible business practices, including worker welfare,” Driscoll’s said. “Our vision is a world in which all agriculture workers are treated with dignity, fairness and respect, and that employment within the Driscoll’s business enterprise provides income opportunities that meet or exceed local standards. We invite you to read more on our efforts: www.driscolls.com/workerwelfareupdate.”
Oscar Ramirez, a plant science major at Fresno State focusing in ethnobotany, marched to support workers’ rights.
“If you look in whatever workplace you’re at, if you get stuff like disability benefits, overtime pay, safety regulations, fire sprinklers, fire escapes — these are all the things that if it were up to the bosses they wouldn’t have,” Ramirez said. “People had to fight for all these things and maybe most workers take for granted or don’t recognize what a long, deep struggle had to take place for them to be able to have these things.”
There were a few voices of dissension from passersby. Some people yelled at the march “Trump’s going to make America great again,” and others shouted expletives.
However, the march, which was just over two miles long, elicited a lot of honking horns of support. Some people even joined in the chanting when the march shouted “Dump Trump” and “Sí se puede” — which translates to “yes we can.”