Western Council of Industrial Workers Local 2739 struck Valley Manufactured Housing here August 25. Today, 135 of the original 160 workers who walked out remain on strike against this builder of modular homes.
"The contract ran out in June and the company offered no raises and only takebacks in the negotiations," said Rogelio Montes, a 22-year-old strike organizer. "So 98 percent voted to walk out."
Among the issues in the strike is the company's refusal to grant a pay increase. Workers here start out at $6.65 an hour and top pay is $8.50. Medical insurance costs about $150 a month. Forced overtime was also an important reason for the strike.
About 50 workers picketed outside the homes of Art Berger, an owner of Valley Manufactured Housing, January 25. They carried candles in the cold desert air and strike signs reading: "Mr. Berger, We want to earn a livable wage." The Yakima county sheriff's office was called to the picket line, and the deputies warned them to stay off private property and to be quiet. The strikers continued their protest without incident.
This is the second walkout at Valley Manufactured Housing. Workers first struck the company in 1995 in support of four welders fired after being denied pay raises. It was out of this fight that the workers decided to unionize.
Most of the strikers are Mexican and between the ages of 17 and 30. Some, such as 29 -year-old Marta Ramos who has worked at Valley Manufactured Housing for three years, found temporary work picking apples. But this has come to an end.
Western Council locals and other unions have shown solidarity with the strike, including contributing to a strikers' food bank that is organized out of the farm workers union hall in Sunnyside.
Valley Manufactured Housing contends that it must keep wages down in order to stay "competitive." Stung by union information leaflets distributed by strikers in front of sales offices, the company placed advertisements in local newspapers that claim "the union is offering nothing but lies."
The company began hiring replacement workers to break the strike the week after the walkout began and has continued to hire throughout the strike. But this has not broken the determination of the unionists.
"This strike is worth it because of the low wages and because of the way they treat us," stated Aguilar. "We're not exaggerating, we're asking for a little justice and we're going to win."
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