History of PCUN

This post is also available in Spanish

The Northwest Digital Archives’ PCUN Digital Collection contains correspondence, newsletters, publications, photographs, newspaper clippings, audio recordings, and other documents that provide a window into the history of the largest labor union and Latino organization in the State of Oregon. These PCUN records are available in both English and Spanish through the following link.

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May 1977 The Willamette Valley Immigration Project (WVIP), precursor to PCUN, is founded in response to an increase in Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) raids in Oregon. It provides legal advice and representation to undocumented workers.

1981-1982 WVIP conducts interviews with reforestation workers to document their living and working conditions. WVIP also responds to massive INS raids and deportations of treeplanters between 1982-1984 by obtaining the release of some workers, and through protesting at the Portland INS office.

1982-1985 WVIP staff campaigns against the revival of the “Bracero” (also known as “guest” worker), program, which was part of proposed immigration legislation during the Reagan administration. WVIP advocated for a general amnesty for all workers.

April 1985 PCUN is founded as Oregon’s union for farmworkers and treeplanters. WVIP continues its service and immigration work through PCUN’s Service Center for Farmworkers.

PCUN Founding Meeting

1986 The Immigration Reform and Control Act is signed into law, allowing all those who had been living undocumented in the United States since Jan. 1, 1982 or who had worked in agriculture for ninety days between May 1, 1985 and May 1, 1986, to apply for residency.

1987-1988 PCUN and Service Center staff assist 1,300 immigrants to file applications seeking amnesty under the 1986 legislation. The INS approves 98% of these applications.

87 Legalization Interviews

1988 PCUN founds the Project to Stop Pesticide Poisoning with the goal of identifying pesticides used on various farms, documenting pesticide exposures, and informing farmworkers of the dangers of pesticides and the resources available to them through PCUN. PCUN also shifts its focus to improving wages and working conditions for farmworkers, and joins other organizations to promote legislation that would give farmworkers collective bargaining rights. In September, PCUN moves into a 6,000-square foot former church building adjacent to the cramped house which had served as the union’s first home.

1990 The “Red Card Campaign” is kicked off during the summer harvest season. PCUN organizers ask workers to document their hours and earnings, then compare this with their pay stubs. PCUN files wage claims with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries for more than 100 workers. PCUN also wins a federal lawsuit invaliding a state law which drastically restricted workplace picketing during planting or harvest of crops. This law, originally enacted in 1963, made strikes virtually impossible.

1991 The first farmworker strike in Oregon since 1971, and the first- ever union-organized strike, is organized by cucumber pickers at Kraemer Farms to demand a raise in pay. PCUN co-founds Farmworker Housing Development Corporation to build and manage decent, affordable housing in towns and with farmworker participation.

1992 Kraemer Farms retaliates against former strikers and PCUN declares a boycott of grower-owned NORPAC Foods, Inc., then the largest processor of fruits and vegetables West of the Mississippi River. PCUN targeted NORPAC Foods to pressure Kraemer Farms, a NORPAC co-owner.

1994 After overcoming years of entrenched opposition, FHDC opens the Nuevo Amanecer housing project in Woodburn housing fifty families, the first farmworker housing built in Woodburn in more than twenty years. Also, on PCUN’s ninth anniversary, members and allies gather to dedicate the PCUN headquarters building as “Risberg Hall”, honoring Edward and Sonia Risberg, immigrant workers and union/community activists in the 1930s and 1940s, whose estate helped finance the building’s acquisition. Singer and activist Pete Seeger headlines the celebration and a benefit concert in Portland.

Nuevo Amanecer

1995 PCUN organizes the Tenth Anniversary Organizing Campaign to raise wages in the strawberry harvest. Through a series of strikes and organizing actions, the wage paid per pound increases two to three cents-25% to 33%–on most area farms, after nearly ten years of stagnant wages. Total pay in the 1995 strawberry harvest increases an estimated $1,000,000.

Aumento Ya- 95 Strawberry Boycott

1997 FHDC opens its second project, the twelve-unit complex called Esperanza Court located in downtown Woodburn across from City Hall. As with Nuevo Amanecer, PCUN helped FHDC overcome fierce political opposition.

1998 Oregon’s first farmworker collective bargaining agreement is signed between PCUN and Nature’s Fountain Farm. The contract includes protections unheard of on most farms, such as seniority, grievance procedures, overtime, paid breaks, and union recognition.

1999 PCUN escalates the NORPAC boycott through a nationwide tour of college campuses, and also gains the support of the Canadian Labour Congress for the boycott. Gardenburger agrees to sever ties to NORPAC.

2000 PCUN joins the United Farm Workers of America to forge a compromise with major national agribusiness associations on a legislation to offer legal status to more than two million farmworkers and immediate family members. The proposals, titled “AgJOBS” fails to will enactment in the closing days of the 106th Congress.

2002 After nearly ten years of boycotting, the four top food services nationally pressure NORPAC Foods Inc.to end its stonewalling and negotiate with PCUN to establish a framework for collective bargaining on NORPAC member farms. PCUN suspends the boycott. The agribusiness lobby tries to scuttle the NORPAC talks by persuading the Republican-led Oregon Legislature to pass an agricultural collective bargaining bill which strips farmworker of most boycott rights. Governor John Kitzhaber vetoes the bill.

PCUN Norpac

2003 The NORPAC talks deadlock as do negotiations on a state collective bargaining law. PCUN and CAUSA build on the 2002 nationwide coalition for the campaign “One Million Voices for Legalization,” (promoting passage of a new legalization program for undocumented immigrants) by organizing the Oregon contingent of the Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride, sending fifty immigrants an supporters on a thirteen-day trek to Washington D.C. and the Statute of Liberty in New York City. PCUN and CAUSA are co-founders of the Campaign for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, uniting key immigrants rights coalitions, national unions, and national advocacy organizations to forge principles and strategies for immgration legislation which includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. PCUN President Ramón Ramírez is chosen as one of fifteen honorees nationally to receive the Ford Foundation’s Leadership for a Changing World Award.

2004 At the urging of PCUN and state legislators led by State Senator Avel Gordly, Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries Dan Gardner issues an administrative rule guaranteeing farmworkers the right to paid rest breaks, making Oregon only the fifth state to do so. PCUN launches the Union Label Marketing Initiative, starting at Willamette University’s cafeteria, operated by Bon Appetit Food Service, establishing a purchasing preference for PCUN union label agricultural products, increasing revenues for growers and employment opportunities for workers under PCUN contract.

2005 FHDC opens its first housing project situated outside of Woodburn, the 48-unit Colonia Libertad and the first farmworker housing in Salem.

2006 In April and May, PCUN and CAUSA organize and facilitate two huge immigration rights mobilizations (18,000 and 12,000) at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem. On November 20th, the 96th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution, PCUN fulfills a decades-old dream and culminates months of intensive organizing and construction, PCUN’s low-power radio station, KPCN-LP (“Radio Movimiento”) signs on broadcasting on 96.3 FM and reaching three-hundred square miles around Woodburn. Radio Movimiento’s volunteer-driven programming quickly attracts a large and loyal listenership in the Latino community.

KPCN Logo

2007 In March, Radio Movimiento broadcasting goes 24/7. In September, FHDC opens Colonia Amistad housing 38 families in the first farmworker housing project situated in the town of Independence.
2008 PCUN collaborates with sister organization, Voz Hispana Causa Chavista, to organize Latino voter participation in the historic primary and general elections. On a campaign swing through the Willamette Valley just before Oregon’s hotly contested primary in mid- May, Senator Barack Obama stops in Woodburn for lunch with a half dozen PCUN leaders.

2008 PCUN stops a “move-in” attempt by a full-power commercial station which would decimate Radio Movimiento’s broadcast range, negotiating a settlement approved by the Federal Communications Commission which shifts Radio Movimiento from 96.3 FM to 95.9 FM. The move actually increases KPCN-LP’s signal strength in North Salem and parts of Keizer.

2009 PCUN stepped into a leadership role nationally on the steering committee of the massive Reform Immigration for America campaign. With PCUN’s support, Voz Hispana Causa Chavista started the “PCUNcitos Club”, cultivating leadership in middle schoolers close to the Movement. On October 7th, 2009–the 60th anniversary of the birth of PCUN co-founder Cipriano Ferrel, PCUN and sister organizations formally launched the campaigns to establish the “CAPACES Leadership Institute” whose mission will be to engage current and emerging movement leaders about values and big strategic ideas, and to help them develop the skills to put those ideas to use.

2012 The CAPACES Leadership Institute (CLI) was completed. The CLI, originally a project of PCUN, is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization whose mission is to prepare leaders with the political consciousness and capacity to lead and support social justice work. Over $750,000 was raised to build the CLI and over 1500 volunteers participated in the construction process.

CLI Logo

2013 PCUN and CAUSA lead a state wide campaign that successfully restores driving privileges for undocumented immigrants. Governor John Kitzhaber signed HB2517 in front of thousands of supporters during the May 1st rally/march at the capitol.

Ramon-OR-Gov