A former United Farm Workers labor union organizer has testified that UFW leadership instructed him to lie to farmworkers, and instructed him how to coerce farmworkers to lie in written statements submitted to a state board as official evidence.
This latest explosive news in the Gerawan Farming workers’ fight to oust the UFW shines more sunlight on the conspiracy inside the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board, and particularly on its office of general counsel, and the close relationship with the UFW. The ALRB general counsel’s office has been accused of blatant bias in favor of the UFW under its present chief, Sylvia Torres-Guillén.
Lies, Lies and More Lies
The ALRB used lies manufactured by the UFW labor union to put a halt to the Gerawan farm workers’ efforts to de-certify the UFW as their collective bargaining representative. Gerawan Farming is one of California’s largest fruit farms.
The disinformation campaign allegedly was part of the UFW’s efforts to discredit Gerawan Farming, as well as the Gerawan workers leading the de-certification campaign.
The UFW lies and scheme was revealed in a March complaint to ALRB Regional Director Silas Shawver. The revelation adds yet more evidence of Shawver’s actions to prevent the Gerawan workers from voting to de-certify the UFW, to prevent the ballots from being counted after the 2013 vote, and to destroy the ballots this year.
It’s important to note, Shawver has used the same UFW-manufactured lies as justification for blocking the Gerawan de-certification effort for the past two years.(Shawver, an ALRB Regional Director, is seen in the photo below wearing a UFW t-shirt)
Horacio Ramirez Reyes, the former UFW organizer at Gerawan, testified before an ALRB administrative judge in January that he came forward out of guilt. “I no longer felt comfortable speaking to the workers because I didn’t believe it was fair… lying to the workers,” Ramirez Reyes said.
Ramirez Reyes said he had been “lying to the workers by order of Armando Elenes,” the Vice President of the United Farm Workers. He added that he and other UFW organizers had instructed Gerawan workers to lie in their written statements. Ramirez Reyes received general guidance from Elenes personally, and had been trained to interpret instructions to get the necessary information to give “weight” to information for the ALRB.
Attempts to reach Ramirez were unsuccessful. Sources who remain in contact with him say “he fears retaliation by the ALRB, which he thinks will give his contact information to the UFW.”
And phone and email requests to the UFW for Armando Elenes to provide a statement received no response.
“I was unhappy with myself because I didn’t feel satisfied lying to the workers and that’s why I quit,” Ramirez Reyes said in testimony before an ALRB administrative court in January. “And I remember that I sent an email to Armando Elenes that . . . I didn’t feel comfortable speaking to the workers anymore and lying to them, telling them something that was not.
“The way we lied to the workers is because we were going to help them and, well, we were not helping them,” Ramirez Reyes said. “Supposedly, we were organizing so that they could have benefits and this was something that wasn’t happening. Because from the beginning, when it was negotiated, the benefits were not negotiated [by the UFW].”
Ramirez’s testimony is corroborated by four crew bosses at Gerawan Farming. The UFW organizers targeted workers in those four crews and in some cases, instructed workers to lie.
“We had to lie to the worker[s],” Ramirez said, by “saying that they were going to have protections as workers, and that they were going to have better work conditions, and better benefits, which was something that never happened. And lying to them in other ways,” he added. “I no longer felt comfortable doing that kind of work and that’s why I decided to quit.”
The UFW also expected Ramirez to arrange for Gerawan workers to lie in written statements to discredit the decertification effort, the former union organizer said.
The union trained Ramirez Reyes and others on “how to get out statements,” to “look for the charges so that we could submit them to stop a decertification,” and “how to prepare a worker when he or she was going to give a statement.”
According to Ramirez Reyes’ testimony, Elenes did not explicitly instruct him to tell witnesses to lie, but “he always insinuated it. He would say that if a worker said that he assumed or supposed that it happened . . . that he shouldn’t say that – he should say ‘it was like that.’”
“One could interpret them [Elenes’ instructions] that we had to guide the worker . . . so that we could obtain what we needed in order to get a good declaration,” Ramirez Reyes testified. “To guide him so that he would say what we needed in order for us to have a charge . . . with enough evidence and in order to stop a decertification,” he added, “regardless of whether it was the truth or not.”
Ramirez Reyes admitted that he did instruct workers to lie in their statements. “I would tell workers that they needed to do whatever they needed to do to better the conditions at work, …that they needed to lie a little bit in order to have weight in their declarations . . . and that Armando [Elenes] would say that the statements needed to be clear. I understood that if the workers had told the truth to the UFW’s attorneys then they wouldn’t have put the false statements in the declaration.”
Some of the lies specifically concerned the circulation of petitions by other workers seeking signatures to de-certify the UFW. If circulated by foremen or, “foreladies,” or if foremen pressured workers to sign, the UFW could claim an Unfair Labor Practice that it could then report to the ALRB, and discredit the legitimacy of the de-certification effort.
ALRB Regional Director Silas Shawver often cited such Unfair Labor Practice allegations against Gerawan as among his reasons for attempting to prevent the workers to vote on de-certification, to prevent the votes from being counted once they were cast, and ultimately to pressure the ALRB in Sacramento to destroy the workers’ ballots.
While organizing one Gerawan crew during peach picking season, Ramirez Reyes said the workers’ accounts about the petitions were not good evidence, because they didn’t meet the threshold of an Unfair Labor Practice. Ramirez Reyes testified that he went to the home of one crew worker, “because Armando Elenes told me that he had received a text from a worker that had information.” A worker, according to Ramirez Reyes, had seen a group of women – apparently de-certification worker activist Silvia Lopez and her daughters – circulating papers.
Ramirez Reyes testified that the worker “made the statement that he had seen some women passing out some sheets of paper, that they had given some sheets of paper to the crew boss.” He went back to the UFW vice president for guidance. “I spoke to Armando and he said that that didn’t help much.” Elenes told Ramirez to speak to the worker some more “so that what we were going to do had a lot of weight.”
Ramirez Reyes, in turn, instructed the workers to lie to give their reports the needed weight. “So, what was needed was for this worker to say that it was petitions, what the forelady had given him because it was never known whether it was a petition or not,” Ramirez Reyes said. “It was just for them to sign the papers.”
Since Lopez and the other women were not “foreladies,” their circulation of the petitions was allowed. “But in order for these charges to have grounds,” Ramirez recalled, “for them to say it was a forelady who had passed or given the crew boss the petition, but they weren’t sure. I spoke to the worker to prepare him, to tell him that if he didn’t say this” – that it was a forelady who had given the petition to the crew boss – then it wouldn’t have any legal weight.
If the crew boss had instructed a worker to sign, the action would have been another Unfair Labor Practice to discredit the de-certification effort. However, Ramirez Reyes said, “nobody saw them, nobody saw what they were signing, and nobody told him.” The source worker had to report in writing that the crew boss “then and there, told him to sign.”
UFW Coercing Workers
When asked about the incident again, Ramirez Reyes testified that Elenes told him “to talk to the worker so the worker would say what was needed so that the declaration could have weight and could be used,” Ramirez Reyes testified. “For me to talk to the worker so that the worker would say what was needed so that the declaration could have weight and could be used. I told the worker that . . . we needed for him to say that those persons were foreladies because they were thinking they were foreladies, but they weren’t sure,” said Ramirez Reyes. “And, then in order for the declaration to have weight, then that [the crew boss] had said for them to sign the petition.
Ramirez Reyes identified other Gerawan workers whom he had also instructed to lie. He said that he prepared a statement for one and that he and others filled out forms for other workers. “It was always an organizer [who was] the one who filled out that form,” he said.
The UFW got some workers to sign statements by harassing them at their homes. “Sometimes,” Ramirez said, “so that we wouldn’t bother them anymore, the worker would sign the petition. They would say, ‘I’ll go ahead and sign but don’t come bothering me at my house anymore.”