When United Farm Workers organizer Frank Curiel answered the phone in mid-December, he had just come from Quincy Farms, which each year produces 25 million pounds of white button mushrooms and 500,000 pounds of giant portobellos. He had attended the weekly “workers board” meeting, at which a union representative, five workers and five company managers discuss working conditions and productivity at the Southeast’s largest mushroom grower.
Less than two years ago, such a meeting would have seemed improbable. As I described in these pages (see “Picking a protest,” March 4, 1998), the workers were struggling to get organized. And such a meeting would have been an almost unimaginable idea in December 1996, when Curiel arrived in Quincy, a run-down former tobacco-growing town in Florida’s panhandle, 40 miles northwest of Tallahassee and hard by the Georgia and Alabama borders.