By Serran Soledad
Tribune of the People spoke with two workers from Muranaka Farms (the largest distributor of green onions in the United States), about work-related grievances, including lack of Covid-19 precautions and high employee turnover.
With farms in California, Arizona, and Mexico, Muranaka owns 450 acres of land in Ventura County alone, employing over 150 workers from all over the county to pick green and work their distribution factory in Moorpark.
Owners Harry, Charles, and Roy Muranaka have described their company as “Family Owned” and good-paying.
When interviewed by Tribune, a factory worker described his experience working at Muranaka “as capitalists. They don’t understand the amount of work and skill that’s required to perform the job. They often chew out our managers for not being as efficient as they want us to be. We were expected to make up for profits lost out of our control. The job was very labor intensive and because many workers were undocumented they felt pressured to not ask for more.”
Undocumented workers make up 75% of the agricultural workforce in California, where tough conditions and unfair labor practices are commonplace, and workers are forced to keep quiet out of fear of being fired.
The worker also described seeing a high turnover rate: “I’d say there was about 5 to 6 positions on the assembly line that were often vacated and replaced. I counted that we went through a little over 50 employees in the last 6 months I worked there.”
With the Muranaka’s sole interest being profits made through exploiting farm and factory labor, it’s no surprise their response to pandemic hazards in the workplace have been almost non-existent.
A worker who picks radishes at Muranaka told Tribune, “Sometimes the company does things they don’t want you to know, like how one of the workers that was positive [for Covid-19]; there was no meeting about it or warning for us. We only found out because of the other workers that worked within that area,” he said.
“The company has not prepared us, the boss to be more specific; their only focus was the produce and to earn money”.
The high turnover rate at Muranaka Farms means they can easily replace workers lost due to Covid-19 or other work-related issues rather than provide measures to ensure their health and safety.
The United Farm Workers of America(UFW) have provided masks at Muranaka Farms throughout the pandemic, but workers expressed lackluster involvement from the union in other daily struggles.
“Our union rep never came to visit us, ask or investigate about our conditions. This meant that they weren’t qualified to defend us when it came time for contract negotiations. The workers were having dues collected from their paychecks and when it came time to actually argue or bargain, the workers had to speak for themselves.”