OXNARD — One of the nation's largest strawberry growers and the United Farm Workers have reached agreement on a new three-year contract, union officials said.
The contract freezes wages for Coastal Berry Co. pickers at the current rate of $7.75 an hour for the first year and provides better medical coverage with lower premiums. Wages will rise 1.5% in both 2007 and 2008.
"We are very proud of both the workers and the employer that we were able to sit down and negotiate with Coastal Berry a reasonable and mutually beneficial compromise," union President Arturo Rodriguez said Friday.
Coastal Berry's 1,050 strawberry workers in the Watsonville area and its 600 pickers in Ventura County had their monthly healthcare premiums drop from $25 to $10 under the agreement, he said. The coverage also raises maximum insurance payouts and offers lower prescription co-payments, he added.
During the peak of the season, workers are generally paid "piece rate," which has been $4.85 an hour plus 75 cents a box since 2003.
"We are paying competitive wages, we feel, and we have negotiated a competitive contract," said Dole Food Co. spokesman Marty Ordman. The contract is the first to be negotiated with the strawberry grower since Dole acquired it in 2004.
The season hasn't started at the larger Watsonville operation, so workers are not there yet. But Rodriguez has the power under the UFW constitution to unilaterally approve contracts.