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Katy Grimes

UFW Contracts Pay Less than Minimum Wage

The United Farm Workers union recently admitted that their contracts do not provide a living wage. They did it in a room full of people.

I attended the conference UC Davis held April 17 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the the Agricultural Labor Relations Act. I nearly didn’t make it, as the conference was supposedly sold out prior to the deadline. But it quickly became apparent that leaders of the United Farm Workers union manipulated the event registration. The United Farm Workers labor union claimed it was bringing busloads of workers to the event, and reserved the seats. The day of the event, six workers showed up; there were more UFW employees at the conference than actual workers. 

These are the tactics used by the desperate UFW, clinging to relevance by a thread. UFW membership is hovering at 3,300 members, according to Philip Martin, UC Davis Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics, and the organizer of the event.

UFW Lies

I recently wrote about the UFW lying about the number of members it has. But that’s not all. Apparently the UFW also is not honest about the wages it pays union workers.

At least three recent UFW contracts call for employees to earn $9 per hour. Once union dues are deducted, the workers actually earn closer to $8.75 an hour — less than minimum wage, which is currently $9.00 per hour. At one company, the contract actually calls for $8.50 per hour but the employer is required to pay $9 per hour because of minimum wage laws. Had it not been for the minimum wage increase, these workers would still be earning about $8.20 per hour after dues were deducted.


Wage Per Hour

Wage Per Hour

After 3% Dues

San Joaquin Tomato



Pacific Triple E






These are not isolated incidents. In 2005, the state’s minimum wage was $6.75 per hour. Workers at Warmerdam in Hanford under a UFW contract earned $7 per hour. Once dues were deducted, the workers received about $6.79 – only four cents above minimum wage! Not surprisingly, the workers chose to decertify the UFW.

I contacted the Agricultural Labor Relations Board by phone and email to ask how this is legal, and if they knew this was going on. But I did not receive a response in time for publication.

UFW Admits Their Contracts Do Not Provide Living Wage

At the UC Davis conference, UFW Attorney Mario Martinez said, “Gerawan Farms bragged it paid the highest wages in the industry two years ago – it was still only $9 per hour – that’s not really a living wage.” While that is not true, it’s not surprising since much of what UFW says is untrue. Gerawan’s wages were $10 per hour minimum at that time, two years ago. What is more troubling about Martinez’s statement is that two years ago Gerawan’s wages were not only $2 above minimum wage, but also $1.75 to $2 higher than what UFW contracts elsewhere allowed workers to take home.

Currently at $11 per hour minimum without a union contract, Gerawan workers earn over $2 per hour more than workers with UFW contracts elsewhere. While Gerawan pays their workers $2 dollars above what UFW says isn’t really “a living wage,” the UFW contracts elsewhere make it so employees take home less than the $9 that the UFW’s Martinez says isn’t a living wage. Even more troubling is the current contract the ALRB and UFW are trying to force on the Gerawan workers will cause them to earn less than the $11 an hour they currently earn once dues are deducted. Under an imposed union contract, the Gerawan workers will earn $10.91 per hour instead of the $11 they earn now.

Even though Gerawan’s base wage is significantly higher than UFW base wages and many other employers’ wages, the UFW never admits that Gerawan’s actual wages are higher yet. Gerawan’s website shows that their average wage is actually more than $12 per hour, because Gerawan pays grape work based on units produced. Gerawan employees have options and ways to make more money.

Why Now?

In 1990, the United Farm Workers won a contested election at Gerawan. In 1992 the Agricultural Labor Relations Board certified the UFW as the Gerawan employees’ bargaining representative. Yet the UFW never made any attempt to negotiate a contract. Between 1994 and 2012, the UFW never made contact with Gerawan or its employees, and the workers continued for two decades working as non-union employees.

UFW officials have never explained why they left Gerawan Farming more than 20 years ago. They reappeared 20 years later in October 2012 as if no time had lapsed, demanding collective bargaining and a contract.

Today, the UFW is a shadow of what it once was. With approximately only 3,300 union members, the UFW needs money and members to survive.

It doesn’t take a superhero with X-ray vision to see Gerawan’s 5,000 employees total more than the current UFW membership. Unionizing the Gerawan employees, and receiving three percent of each workers’ wages could be a financial jackpot for the union. But the workers don’t want the UFW and have been fighting hard to keep the union out, with protests and strikes.

Constitutionality of Government Forced Contracts

On April 14, the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno heard oral arguments to decide the constitutionality of forced labor contracts. In the case of Gerawan and another grower, the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board is trying to force a government-written “contract” on the employers and employees, without a ratification vote by the employees, even though the employees will have to pay the union or lose their jobs.

The Gerawan employees held an election in Nov. 2013 to likely decertify the UFW, but the ALRB locked up the ballots and refused to count them.

Based on the three UFW contracts above, it’s clear why the ALRB and UFW don’t want the Gerawan employees to have the power to ratify or vote down the contracts that would be forced on them. Perhaps that is also why the ALRB and UFW put a sneaky clause in the Gerawan contract to prohibit the workers from continuing their wildly popular strike protests against ALRB and UFW. This appears to be an abuse of power; the workers have embarrassed the ALRB, so the ALRB simply uses its power to silence them.

Survival at the Farmworkers’ Expense

There is a reason why the UFW is willing to settle for contracts that provide virtually no benefit to its members. The UFW needs dues to survive, so it will negotiate whatever contract it can in order to bring in dues. These contracts are of little value to farm workers, which would explain the UFW’s dismal membership.

In a letter from ALRB Chariman William Gould to Sen. Pres. Pro Tem Kevin de Leon and the Senate Rules Committee, Gould explains that there are “an estimated 800,000 agricultural employees” in California.

Of these 800,000, the UFW claims only about 1 percent as members. Many in the agricultural community ask why our State Legislature pretends that the UFW somehow speaks for farmworkers in general? If so many farmworkers have rejected the UFW, why does the legislature embrace the moribund union?

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