Breaking From Custom, One Small Oregon Farm Pays Strawberry Pickers by the Hour
Add this to the many pressures facing the Oregon strawberry: a growing clamor to stabilize wages for migrant workers whose sweat brings Americans their food.
Unlike a lot of fruits and even other berries, strawberries must be handpicked, which makes labor one of the biggest costs of doing business for farmers.
Javier Lara, 43, is throwing a wrench into the uneasy accord between growers and labor.
Paying strawberry pickers by the hour.
"It can be done," he says. "We're an example."
In almost all U.S. operations, strawberry pickers are paid by the pound, as an incentive to harvest as many as possible. Oregon law requires that farmers pay workers at least minimum wage if they fail to meet that threshold at the piece rate, except at very small farms.
If they're fast and the berries are big and plentiful, many strawberry pickers can make more than minimum wage—which is set to rise 50 cents to $9.75 an hour in the Portland area, and 25 cents in the rest of the state, on July 1
"A lot of workers kill themselves picking as much strawberries as they can in a day so they can make up their wages because they haven't worked in months," says Ramon Ramirez, co-founder of Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, the union for Northwest tree-planters and farmworkers. (It is often referred to as PCUN.) "It's the first crop, so people are anxious to get to work."