This is the first in a six part video series speaking with Larry Kleinman, Secretary-Treasurer for the Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United (PCUN) about the plight of farmworkers in Oregon, and across the country. PCUN shares its ideological roots with the United Farmworkers Union (UFW), but it’s a separate organization whose base is concentrated in the Oregon counties of Marion, Polk, and Eastern Clackamas, south of nearby Portland.
A founding member of PCUN, Kleinman shares his views about immigration, and the struggle for basic farm worker rights, and improved living conditions.
As immigration issues have reignited strong sentiments across the country, it’s important to note that farmworkers nationally, many of whom are undocumented workers, provide vital services hand harvesting most of the fresh fruits and vegetables grown in this country. Despite the physically demanding nature of this work, the difficult working conditions, and the unique skill set requirements, farm workers often are paid salaries below the minimum wage, without any healthcare or other workplace benefits. While the average farmworker is 31 years of age, their life expectancy is an appallingly short 49 years, the same life expectancy as the average American living in 1900.
As the political pendulum in America has shifted over the past several decades to the right, the level of income disparity has risen to historic levels, not seen since 1928, just prior to the Great Depression. One of the central defining questions of our age remains unanswered: how can we develop a new economy that strengthens families and communities, provides livable wage jobs for the masses, and is not dependent upon resource depletion beyond the capacity of our planet to sustain itself?
However one approaches this daunting challenge, the role of unions today, and into the future, will remain an essential element toward efforts to rebalance the scales, and as an important partner at the table in finding solutions that not only benefit workers, but society as a whole.