A groundbreaking partnership between the United Farm Workers and an upscale rose producer has increased productivity, cut workers' compensation claims and lifted the morale of hundreds of field workers.
Now, it's even yielded a rose.
The pink, sweet-smelling floribunda rose, developed by Jackson & Perkins at the suggestion of UFW members, commemorates Our Lady of Guadalupe, revered by millions of Latinos as the patron saint of Mexico.
Officials and union members at the Bend, Ore.-based company hope the rose developed in California's Central Valley will help open the door to the booming U.S. Latino market, which is underrepresented in the company's customer base.
"We're going to do everything we can to help them," said UFW President Arturo Rodriguez. "More roses mean more jobs."
In an unusual mix of religion and marketing, the rose was unveiled Thursday at Our Lady of Angels Church in downtown Los Angeles and blessed by Cardinal Roger Mahony. Standing before a mural depicting the Virgin's appearance to an Indian peasant near Mexico City in the 16th century, the cardinal praised the union-management alliance at Jackson & Perkins, which employs about 1,400 production workers.
"This is a stunning example of how the two can work together," said Mahony, who has been increasingly vocal in backing labor. "I just wish the MTA [Metropolitan Transportation Authority] was following the same example. If they did, we might have some buses running out here today," he said, referring to the Los Angeles transit strike that has brought the nation's second-largest bus system to a standstill for six days.
Relations weren't always so rosy, however. The UFW ran an aggressive organizing campaign at Bear Creek, the production arm of Jackson & Perkins near Bakersfield, and the company fought back hard. The dispute was heated and bitter. But when workers overwhelmingly voted for the union in 1995, Chief Executive Bill Williams offered to become a partner rather than an adversary.
Within three months, workers had their first contract, an unusually speedy turnaround. Even more surprising were the terms. Employees now earn an hourly wage, rather than the piece rates common in agriculture. They receive pension benefits and health insurance, 10 paid holidays a year and up to three weeks' vacation.
Even more important, said several longtime employees, is that their opinions are heard and valued. "Now we work like a team," said Roberto Zamora, who has propagated roses at the Bear Creek farm for 25 years. "We want the company to grow, and a lot of us have good ideas to make that happen."
Company spokesman Bill Ihle said that under the partnership, productivity has increased, absenteeism and workers' compensation claims have dropped and morale has noticeably improved. "There are a lot of collateral benefits," Ihle said. "Especially in our business, where quality is so important."
The relationship was recently honored by the national AFL-CIO, which has been trying to develop more strategic alliances between unions and businesses. UFW President Rodriguez said his union is preparing proposals for other growers, particularly in mushrooms and wine grapes, where relationships are now friendly.
"The workers are very excited about contributing to a healthy company," he said.
Management and worker representatives at Bear Creek gather twice a year for two-day strategy sessions, at which the company's financial records are opened and development plans are described.
It was at one such session that Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the UFW, suggested creating a special rose to honor the Virgin of Guadalupe. Huerta, who recently stepped down from the UFW board, was not at the ceremony.
The idea was to honor an icon of Catholic Latino immigrants while also appealing to a fast-growing market, Ihle said. Throughout the development of the rose, which began more than two years ago, workers--mostly immigrants from Mexico--were consulted. They were polled, for example, on color. "It was pretty unanimous that it be light pink," Ihle said.
Workers will also be involved in marketing the new rose, appearing at retail outlets when the roses are introduced this spring.
The company plans to donate 10% of sales of the roses to the Washington-based Hispanic College Fund.
"Just imagine, at each step of the way, Latinos will touch or be touched by the Our Lady of Guadalupe rose," said Adam Cheverria of the college fund. "We hope and pray that they will sell millions and millions of them."