Search PNC News for stories of people and churches in our UCC Conference:

Two from PNC join advocacy for Yakima workers

Leslie Cushman shows strikers lined along a sidewalk. Photos courtesy of Leslie Cushman and Steve Clagett

The strike by Yakima fruit packing warehouse workers has ended with agreements with all seven companies the workers challenged to adopt safer COVID-19 precautions and to grant higher pay and hazard pay.

Among the advocates supporting them on behalf of the Pacific Northwest Conference United Church of Christ—based on past PNC resolutions—were Steve Clagett, chair of the Justice Witness Ministries Committee, and Leslie Cushman, a volunteer with the Latino Civic Alliance.

Both are involved as part of their commitment to the PNC-UCC’s efforts to dismantle racism.

Both went there to join those picketing, about a third of the workers.  Leslie helped host a solidarity event at her church, United Churches of Olympia.

Vigil on May 1 was held at United Churches of Olympia.

"The fruit packers had never gone on strike before.  They have no union.  They have been paid minimum wage for 20 years, with no increases other than when the state raised the minimum wage,” said Leslie.

She described their conditions:  They work 12 months a year.  The plants operate three eight-hour shifts a day, working around the clock.  Fruit is kept in controlled atmosphere cold storage, so they run all year, more in harvest time.

Steve Clagett with JWM banner expresses PNC solidarity.

“While the people have worked faithfully, they have faced discrimination and intimidation on the job, some because they are undocumented and some because they are vulnerable economically,” she explained.

The intimidation includes silencing them with threat of losing their jobs if they speak up about working conditions.  There is also sexual harassment and assault, Leslie added.

The workers wanted the employers to provide masks, barriers between work stations, keeping soap and hand sanitizer dispensers full, sanitizing surfaces, informing workers when co-workers are test positive, improving communication with workers, pay raises and hazard pay. They also wanted protection from retaliation for striking.

Familias Unidas por la Justicia, a union formed in the Skagit Valley to protect berry pickers, became involved.  Leslie was involved with that effort.

Familias Unidas created calls for action and advocacy to call attention to the strikes.  Leslie has been advocating with the Latino community since 2016.

“Latinos are 13 percent of the state’s population, but 43 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the state,” she said.

Steve added that, according to the Seattle Times, the per capita COVID-19 rate in Yakima County is now four times higher than the per capita rate in King County, previously the hot spot in the state.

It’s because of the conditions Hispanic people have there in working crowded work places, living in crowded housing, lacking access to health care, and working as essential workers in grocery stores, the trucking industry, nursing homes, fields and fruit, meat, dairy and chicken food processing warehouses,” he explained.

“Stay Home and Stay Healthy was not an option for them,” he said, adding that their children were out of school, but lacked access to computers and broadband for Zoom and other means to continue studies.  “Many teens went out to the fields to work.”

Steve went to Yakima on May 25, the 19th day of the strike, which ended with workers making agreements with each of the companies.  Steve stood with the workers on strike, holding a banner of the PNC’s Justice Witness Ministries Committee.

Steve and Leslie had arranged for the conference to sign a letter of support.  Both urged PNC churches to inform members and bring more support.  They spread word on the Google listserv.  They informed people of the strikers’ Go Fund Me Drive, because, not having a union, they had no support for their time off work.

In holding the JWM banner, Steve, who retired six years ago from a career in advocating for low-income housing, goal is “to show up where I can to show support for economic justice, to let people know the faith community cares.”

He wants those striking to know that others, people in the faith community, are there and support them.

“Our job is to empower them by our presence, not do the organizing,” he said.

For information, call Steve at 206-795-9475 or email him at or Leslie at


Pacific NW Conference United Church News - Copyright © Summer 2020


Share this article on your favorite social media Bookmark and Share