By Serran Soledad
On Monday, protesters gathered outside Villa Las Brisas housing facility for a march against conditions that led to a major Covid-19 outbreak there in late June. 188 migrant farmworkers tested positive for the novel coronavirus after being housed at Reiter Affiliated Companies’ (RAC) facility during the Spring work season.
Organized by Oxnard Revolutionary Study Group, the protest called for RAC to meet a list of demands compiled after talks between activists and the quarantined workers.
Activists discovered that workers (young men between the ages of 20 and 35) slept in bunk beds, seven people to a room, with no laundry detergent to wash clothes. Wifi was cut for two weeks, halting communication with their families in Mexico.
RAC, the largest mixed-berry producer in North America, houses farmworkers at Villa Las Brisas, who are allowed entry into the US from Mexico via an H2-A Visa Program for seasonal work through labor contractors. Before the pandemic, they would wake up, go to work and have to be back for the 10 PM curfew.
Wage conditions varied depending on the labor contractor. Some workers stated they were not receiving wages due to the work stoppage and strict lockdown; others said they were still having wages garnished for the food served during quarantine. One worker said that in the past when people spoke up against bad conditions at Reiter or in the fields, their contract was not renewed the following season.
As protesters arrived at the facility surrounded by fencing, activists spoke on the conditions and exploitation that led to the Covid-19 outbreak. Around 80 farmworkers emerged from the courtyard to listen. Donations of fruit and popular Mexican snacks were brought by community members and passed over the fence to the workers, who quickly crowded the gate between them.
The weight of the protesters standing outside Villa Las Brisas triggered the electronic gate to open, allowing them to enter the facility and talk face-to-face with the quarantined workers. Before the gate could close again, an activist jammed a traffic cone into the mechanism.
A banner that read “Trabajadores si, Reiter no!” was brought to the middle of the courtyard, while the list of demands were read to the workers. When the demand for adequate cafeteria food and an end to the wages garnished for said food came up, workers cheered, raising their fists high in the air.
It was discovered that before the pandemic, farmworkers were fed “pork slop,” and only as a result of the quarantine was RAC forced to provide them with take-out.
One worker took the invitation to step outside the gate and speak, despite lockdown orders. He voiced his appreciation for the community support, expressing that the workers are feeling fine and just want to return home to their families.
Once the speakers concluded, protesters began a march taking the streets from the facility to the Reiter office in downtown Oxnard, where the list of demands was served. Chants of “In the streets! In the fight! Workers of the world unite!” echoed down the mile-long road.
Arriving to the RAC office, an activist gave a speech highlighting the disparity between the expensive office building and the dismal housing facility, condemning the CEO of RAC Hector Lujan for being a rich parasite that forces the farmworkers to endure such substandard conditions. The list of demands was once again read aloud, this time directly against RAC while “Pinche Parasitos!” was yelled from the crowd.
Activists taped the demands to the office door and proceeded to march back to Villa Las Brisas, taking the streets and blocking off a major intersection along the way.
The following day it was announced that 150 workers were released from quarantine.