Farm workers encourage

John Adams

An Oregon farm workers’ union is trying to recruit University students to boycott the Gardenburger, a vegetarian menu item offered by University Dining Services.
The union — Northwest Treeplanters & Farmworkers United — alleges that Norpac, a distributor of Gardenburger, treats its workers inhumanely and doesn’t allow them to unionize. Company officials say the law doesn’t require them to recognize farm worker unions.
Although Aramark Corp., which runs all University food services, doesn’t use Norpac, the union wants to send a message to Gardenburger not to deal with Norpac.
The boycott was the subject of a speech by Leonidis Olava, a representative from the farmers’ union, given on Tuesday at the La Raza Student Cultural Center. The speech was the first stop of an 11-university tour of the Midwest discussing the plight of Norpac’s non-unionized farm workers.
Norpac is a grower-owned, Oregon-based company made up of about 240 growers. Each grower is in a contract with Norpac. The growers employ between 3,000 to 4,000 farm workers.
Trim Bissel, one of the boycott’s organizers, said the boycott of Gardenburger is a “secondary” boycott of Norpac. Bissel said the union is trying to mobilize students because universities are large clients of Gardenburger.
“What gets to Norpac and Gardenburger is when they lose an institutional customer,” Bissel said.
Unlike most industries, distributors such as Norpac are not legally required to recognize farm workers’ unions as outlined in the National Labor Relations Act. Norpac spokesman Brian Bell said change needs to come through federal law, not a boycott.
“This is an ill-conceived boycott,” Bell said, adding that the allegations have been investigated and none have warranted prosecution.
Richard Dietz, chief financial officer of Gardenburger Inc., said boycotting the Gardenburger doesn’t make sense because Gardenburger simply uses Norpac as a distributor.
“None of the products we use for the Gardenburger come from these farms,” Dietz said, adding that they have had a good relationship with Norpac and will continue to use them as a distributor. Dietz said Gardenburger’s sales have increased 76 percent during the past year.
Rafael Espinosa, a University student and coordinator for the Farmworkers’ Action Network, said his organization will likely set up a meeting with Aramark about the Gardenburger.
Aramark District Manager Doug Hubbard said this is the first he has heard about the boycott. He said Aramark has sold the Gardenburger for about a year and that it’s a good vegetarian product in a category with few options.
The boycott tour is sponsored by the Campaign for Labor Rights, an organization funded by about 2,600 individual members.