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Katy Grimes

Berkeley interferes in farmworkers’ campaign on behalf of UFW

On the heels of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board refusing to count thousands of ballots collected by farmworkers cast six months ago to decertify the United Farm Workers labor union, the City of Berkeley has decided to weigh in on the contentious labor issue.

This is the same Berkeley City Council which in 2008 approved a measure which told Marine recruiters to vacate their Berkeley office.

But rather than offer support to the farm workers in their fight to oust the UFW from Gerawan Farming, a Berkeley City Council member is calling for letters of support for the UFW.

“Support the United Farm Workers by sending letters to Wal-Mart requesting it upholds its own ‘Standards for Suppliers’ and to Gerawan Inc. urging it to protect and aid its underpaid agricultural workers,” Berkeley Councilman Kriss Worthington’s letter said.

In the letter, Worthington explained to the rest of the city council, “Gerawan Inc. owns the Prima brand, whose agricultural products are sold at Wal-Mart stores across the country.”

Worthington said Gerawan Farming advertises “the best wages” and “a comfortable working environment” for over 5,000 workers that harvest their crops, and challenged Wal-Mart, a major purchaser of Gerawan’s Prima products, to dump the farming company.

Worthington also drafted a letter for the entire Berkeley City Council to Wal Mart, accusing Gerawan of human rights violations, labor law violations, and claims Gerawan workers are suing the farm for minimum wage violations.

However, Worthington neglected to include in his letters that thousands of Gerawan employees have been protesting for two years to oust the UFW labor union from the farming company.

The UFW won an election to represent Gerawan Farming’s workers 23 years ago. But after only one bargaining session, the union disappeared and wasn’t heard from for more than 20 years. In desperate need of dues-paying members, in October 2012, the union reappeared to impose a contract on Gerawan Farming and its employees — without a vote of the workers.

The workers don’t want the union.

With 15-year Gerawan farm worker Silvia Lopez as their leader, thousands of workers have been asking for the opportunity to vote on whether the Gerawan employees would allow the UFW to represent them, or not. The California Agricultural Labor Relations Board has denied this request several times, despite the 3,000 signatures Lopez collected (several times), for a petition to decertify the union, and allow them to continue working as non-union employees with an employer they like.

Democratic Latino Caucus Ignores Plight of Workers

Lopez, leading the effort for the workers, sent Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Los Angeles, California Legislative Latino Caucus chairman, along with each member of the Latino Caucus, a letter in English and Spanish, pleading for help. But Lopez got no response.

“Mr. Chavez once said, that it is ‘never about grapes or lettuce, it is always about people,’” Lopez wrote. “I believe that is true, and that is why I write to you.”

“I am writing on behalf of thousands of real people and their real families who need the help of the Latino Caucus. We are farmworkers employed by Gerawan Farming in the Central Valley,” Lopez said in her letter. “We are field laborers and packers. We work with apricots, nectarines, peaches, and grapes. We are the exact kinds of people Mr. Chavez worked for his whole life. I believe that if Mr. Chavez was here today and visited our worksites, he would be happy at the progress that has been made and the good working conditions we have.”

“However, our voice is not being heard right now,” Lopez said.

True Justice Knows No Boundaries

Recently, former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso published an opinion piece through the Rosenberg Foundation, containing accusations and incorrect statements about Gerawan Farming, and the ongoing effort by its employees to achieve rights to a fair decertification election.

“Fresno-based Gerawan Farming, one of America’s largest grape and tree fruit growers, epitomizes the agricultural industry’s ongoing, entrenched resistance to unionization,” Reynoso wrote. “Gerawan’s grapes, peaches, plums, nectarines and apricots are sold in major grocery stores across the country under its Prima label, but the workers who grew and harvested that fruit have been denied even the most basic of labor protections.”

It’s as if the UFW co-wrote this op-ed for Reynoso.

“Just last year, 23 years after voting for the UFW in a state-conducted, secret ballot election, Gerawan workers finally got what they voted for: a union contract that the state ordered the company to implement,” Reynoso wrote. But he neglected to acknowledge that more than 2,600 Gerawan workers petitioned the ALRB to hold a decertification election, so they could challenge the UFW’s efforts to impose this so-called contract.

The farm workers won that voting right despite the well-orchestrated efforts of the UFW and the ALRB, which twice tried to dismiss the decertification petition.  A Fresno Superior Court Judge even said it appeared that the ALRB staff and the UFW labor union were “in cahoots.”

Berkeley busybodies

Acknowledging other carefully-orchestrated efforts, Berkeley Councilman Kriss Worthington’s misleading letter implying that Gerawan’s Prima Corporation is unsafe, unlawful, and violates employees’ human rights, is not only a stretch, but a legal one at that.

Silvia Lopez recently sued the members of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board for denying her and other farm workers’ the right to a free and fair election. They demanded the votes be counted.

Isn’t it ironic that the ALRB, created in the 1970’s to provide farm workers a voice, refuses to let workers have a voice to vote to decertify the UFW, because the outcome may not fit their agenda.

The UFW has engaged in many coercive activities, as told to me by Gerawan employees, including repeatedly showing up at workers’ houses, disrupting workers during their lunch breaks, and claiming the reason for the workers’ high pay is because of the union, tries to promote boycotts of products produced by the Gerawan farm workers.

How much more orchestrated is it that this? Berkeley City Council is sticking its collective nose in where it could get cut off by the very farm workers once supported by Cesar Chavez. How ironic.

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