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Silvia Lopez

Governor Brown, Please Help Us

[Publisher’s Note: As part of an ongoing effort to bring original, thoughtful commentary to you here at the FlashReport, we are pleased to present this column from Silvia Lopez.]

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This week we celebrate the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who expanded civil rights through peaceful protest and by daring elected officials to live up to America”s founding ideals.

Governor Brown, we farmworkers of California know your cherish Dr. King’s memory; we know you are passionate about civil rights. So why are you allowing your labor board, the ALRB, to deny me and thousands of my co-workers our civil rights?

I have worked at Gerawan Farming in Fresno for more than 16 years, alongside my daughters and my friends. Our employer has paid us well and treated us well. We could work with them to set our own hours and working periods; many of us travel south throughout the year based on the growing seasons and the needs of our family.

Our employer was always flexible with us.

A couple of years ago, we were told we had to begin paying three percent of our pay to the United Farmworkers (UFW) union. We were also told we could no longer negotiate directly with our employer, that only the union could do that now.

We were angry. None of us voted to be in the union, none of us wanted a union. They didn’t do anything for us — why should we give them our money?

We were told that the UFW won an election at Gerawan more than two decades ago. And even though none of the workers there today participated in that 1990 election, the union could take our money and come between us and our employer.

We learned the only way to get out of this UFW contract was to collect enough signatures to have a decertification election. We did that — twice. Your labor board, the ALRB, at last let us have an election, and in November 2013 we voted.

Fourteen months later, the board still has not counted those ballots.

Our votes remain locked up, uncounted. How do we know who’s been watching those ballots? Fourteen months is a long time: How can we know they haven’t been tampered with?

How can an agency of your government be allowed to disenfranchise us like this? All we want is our votes to be counted. All we want is our voices to be heard.

My co-workers and I have been reading a lot about the U.S. Constitution. Many of us came to this country seeking its protections. Governor, did you know the 14th Amendment forbids any state from denying anyone “liberty or property” without due process?

By ignoring our votes and imposing a UFW contract on us, your government is depriving us of both our liberty (forcing us into an association) and our property (three percent of our wages).

How can you allow this to happen?

We have been following Dr. King’s example by protesting peacefully – but loudly – every since this outrage began. We will be doing it again on January 22 at the ALRB public meeting in Sacramento in the morning, and then again at the State House in the afternoon.

Maybe no one on your staff tells you what is happening to us. Maybe you don’t know what your government is doing to Latino Californians, among your most vulnerable and loyal supporters. So I am telling you.

Please, Governor Brown, do honor to Dr. King’s legacy and live up to your own ideals.

Please help us.