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As autoworkers strike, farmworkers seek bargaining rights

Diana Tellefson Torres stands in front of a pale olive wall, smiling. She wears a dark green button-up blouse and a red UFW Foundation pin on the upper left side of her chest.
Michael Symonds
Diana Tellefson Torres is meeting farm workers in the state, who she says lack the guaranteed right to form a union, an issue she hopes the state will address.

The head of the UFW Foundation was in Kalamazoo on Sept. 27 where she touched on the United Farm Workers' shared history with the striking United Auto Workers.

At a Kalamazoo Community Foundation event, UFW Foundation President Diana Tellefson Torres said she was visiting the state to speak with Michigan farm workers on policy issues.

As the United Auto Workers continues a strike against the “Big Three” automakers, Torres said the link between the two unions is more than simply surface-level.

She said they have a history of supporting each other, going back to the 1960s.

“At the time, farmworkers went on strike, Filipino workers and Mexican farmworkers who are on the ground were definitely in need. And to support that strike, the UAW was providing support for the strike fund,” Torres said.

Torres added that there are many parallels between the demands of the UAW and the goals of the UFW.

She said that’s especially true when it comes to wages.

“Many farmworkers struggle with poverty, which makes absolutely no sense given that this is a multi-billion dollar agricultural industry that exports food around the world,” Torres said.

Torres said Michigan is one of many states where farmworkers don’t have a guaranteed right to form a union. She added that she hopes Michigan lawmakers will address that.

“We want to ensure that that folks in Michigan and in other states understand that we need equity for farmworkers, we need to ensure that they too have those collective bargaining rights,” she said.

Michael Symonds reports for WMUK through the Report for America national service program.

Report for America national service program corps member Michael Symonds joined WMUK’s staff in 2023. He covers the “rural meets metro” beat, reporting stories that link seemingly disparate parts of Southwest Michigan.