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Farmworkers plan picket at Healdsburg winery

At least 50 people plan to picket Healdsburg’s Simi Winery Saturday evening as part of an ongoing campaign to ensure protections and boost wages for Sonoma County grape-pickers who work during wildfires.

The demonstration, organized by the nonprofit advocacy organization North Bay Jobs with Justice and the farm laborers it works with, will begin at 5 p.m. outside the winery’s Healdsburg Avenue tasting room, according to Max Bell Alper, the nonprofit’s executive director.

Protesters plan to bring signs and play drums in hopes of drawing attention to North Bay Jobs with Justice’s five demands for farmworker protections during wildfires, priorities the nonprofit says were culled from a survey of about 100 laborers who pick Sonoma County’s vines.

The demands were mailed out over the summer to about 100 companies in Sonoma County’s wine industry. They seek hazard pay for farmworkers who work even when smoke fills the skies, as well as access to fire safety and evacuation information in workers’ primary languages, including Indigenous dialects.

The demands also request that the companies cooperate with volunteer community safety observers who wish to inspect working conditions at local vineyards.

Saturday’s picket will coincide with a $145-per-plate “harvest dinner” at the winery’s tasting room, which is advertised on the Simi Winery website for that same evening.

“After months and months of not hearing anything (from Simi Winery), workers are feeling that they are not being seen or heard,” Bell Alper said. “If they’re not willing to even respond, well then workers are going to go and protest.”

A representative of Simi Winery and Constellation Brands, Inc., the Fortune 500 company that owns the winery, was not available for an interview Thursday or Friday.

In a written statement, the winery said it’s historically offered employees competitive pay and benefits, as well as a safe work environment.

“We remain committed to working directly with our team members to continue to provide a work experience that enables them to do their best work in a safe and inclusive environment, while providing for themselves and their families,” the statement read.

Of the 100 businesses that have been asked to implement North Bay Jobs with Justice’s demands, none — as of Thursday — have agreed, Bell Alper said.

The topic of workers’ safety during wildfires has, however, caught the attention of local community groups and the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.

A panel, hosted by the Latino leadership group Los Cien, discussed farmworker safety in late September.

In interviews about the topic, Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Lynda Hopkins and Supervisor James Gore said they planned to ask their colleagues to set aside federal COVID-19 relief dollars to boost workers’ safety during wildfires.

They also pressed the state’s workplace safety agency to provide more guidance on the issue.

Sonoma County Winegrowers President Karissa Kruse has said that the 1,800 grape growers in Sonoma and Marin counties her organization represents already follow state-mandated wildfire safety regulations.

She contends wineries should not be required to pay wages for work that is not completed, which is one of the demands North Bay Jobs with Justice is making that refers to the wages farmworkers lose due to wildfire smoke or fire damage.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to include a written statement from Simi Winery.

Nashelly Chavez

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat 

Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.   

 

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