The Agricultural Labor Relations Board is responsible for investigating unfair labor practices in California. However, despite knowing that a former United Farm Workers labor union organizer testified that UFW leadership instructed him to lie to farmworkers, and instructed him to coerce farmworkers to lie in written statements submitted to the ALRB, the state agency has decided not to investigate.
The Agricultural Labor Relations Board decision provides even more evidence that the agency is collaborating with the UFW in violation of state law. According to the law, the ALRB must serve farmworkers’ interests by being impartial between unions and employers. Instead, the state agency is ignoring the evidence that the United Farm Workers labor union orchestrated a disinformation campaign to influence the ALRB – even with a former UFW organizer’s sworn confession that the union leadership had trained and instructed him to organize a campaign of lies.
The former UFW organizer who confessed to the wrongdoing is now hiding in fear of retaliation.
Phone and email requests to the UFW for Armando Elenes to provide a statement received no response.
Meanwhile, the ALRB, which promised to investigate the allegations against the UFW, quickly quashed the investigation instead.
Horacio Ramirez Reyes was a UFW organizer who testified to the ALRB in January that the UFW had trained him, and given him personal instructions, to lie to workers in order to discredit workers efforts to de-certify the union. Ramirez Reyes said he had been “lying to the workers by order of Armando Elenes,” the Vice President of the United Farm Workers. The targeted field laborers were employees of Gerawan Farming in California’s Central Valley. Family-owned Gerawan is the nation’s largest producer of peaches, nectarines and plums, and employs thousands of workers.
What’s the Rub?
In 2012, the UFW reappeared after a 20 year absence, claiming to be Gerawan farm workers’ legal organized labor representative. Workers were not happy. In 2013, in a worker-led grassroots effort, Gerawan workers collected thousands of signatures and petitioned the ALRB for an election to decide on whether they would have to work under a UFW union contract. ALRB’s General Counsel’s office tried to prevent the workers from voting on de-certification in the first place, but were overruled by the three-person board in Sacramento. Workers finally voted in the election in November 2013. After the election, the ALRB general counsel’s office in Visalia impounded the ballots, and refused to allow them to be counted. Since then, the ALRB has been working to get the ballots destroyed in order to vacate the election.
Silvia Lopez, a 16-year Gerawan farmworker who has been at the forefront of the de-certification effort, learned of Ramirez’s testimony that he had lied to the workers and instructed them to lie in written reports to discredit the decertification effort. On March 23, she filed a complaint with Silas Shawver, the ALRB director for the Visalia area, who also serves as an attorney under ALRB General Counsel Sylvia Torres-Guillén.
The next day, Shawver promised Lopez in writing, through her attorney, that he would “expeditiously” conduct an investigation and that he intended to conclude within 30 days.
However, documents show that Shawver shut down the investigation before he even started it.
Court documents show that ALRB attorneys did not want the evidence against the UFW to surface in the first place.
In a two-day hearing held in January, the ALRB General Counsel’s office asked Ramirez specifically about Elenes’ exact instructions. “It is your testimony that Mr. Elenes never said the words to you, ‘tell workers to lie,’” asked an ALRB attorney.
“Not like that but the way I interpreted that was the way to say it,” Ramirez replied. “He never said it with those words but that’s the way I understood and he always said it like that. Yes, I acted on that understanding and told workers to lie.”
Ironically, ALRB attorney Arcelia Hurtado expressed no interest in learning about what it was in the UFW’s training that would have persuaded organizers to interpret Elenes’ instructions to lie.
The transcript shows that during the proceedings, Hurtado and UFW lawyer Edgar Ivan Aguilasocho acted like a team. They repeatedly objected to questioning Ramirez about how he understood that the union was instructing him to lie, saying the questions were irrelevant or leading. The ALRB administrative judge overruled nearly all of their objections.
“This is just getting ridiculous,” the UFW’s Aguilasocho said. “At this point, like Ms. Hurtado said, the – there has been nothing relevant to this hearing from what this witness [Ramirez] said. It’s basically opening up a whole new hearing where we’ll be forced to call every single organizer that worked on the Gerawan campaign and have them all come in to testify that Armando Elenes did not tell them to tell workers to lie to the union.”
“I really don’t see how the unions’ internal practices have anything to do with what is actually set for hearing, which is what actually happened in the fields with the signature collection, with the work stoppage, things that we’ve already heard a lot of testimony about,” Aguilasocho said.
The Investigation That Never Was
Remember: The ALRB General Counsel’s office did not act on the allegations of UFW wrongdoing. It took no action after hearing the evidence at the January hearing.
When Silvia Lopez, the Gerawan worker who led the de-certification effort, read the hearing transcript in March, she had her attorney write an official complaint to the ALRB, alleging unfair labor practices on the part of the union. The ALRB’s Visalia Representative Silas Shawver replied in writing that he intended to have an investigation completed within 30 days.
But that investigation never occurred. The ALRB quashed the probe of the union that Shawver had promised. The general counsel’s office informed lawyers for Lopez that it could not act because Ramirez’s confession was “time-barred,” meaning that the statute of limitations had run out.
In fact, California labor law has a “continuing violation doctrine” that effectively nullifies a statute of limitations if a labor violation is ongoing. Paul J. Bauer, an attorney for Lopez, told ALRB Assistant General Counsel Susana Naranjo, that “‘a continuing course of unlawful conduct’ triggers the running of a statute of limitations ‘either when the course of conduct is brought to an end,” or “‘when the employee is on notice that further efforts to end the unlawful conduct will be in vain.’”
Naranjo works with Shawver in Visalia.
“Although the authority on this topic describes the conduct by an employer, the legal principles remain the same and are applicable to the UFW’s conduct and that specifically of [UVW Vice President] Armando Elenes,” Bauer said in a letter to the ALRB. “Here, there is little doubt that a continuing violation is occurring, which provides support to continuing investigating the serious charges” that Lopez brought forward.
“The conduct at issue here is that Mr. Elenes instructed organizers to tell workers to lie and that former UFW organizer Horacio Ramirez Reyes told workers to lie,” Bauer said. “The conduct was, therefore, not only similar, but actually the same from when Mr. Elenes instructed organizers to lie through the hearing in January, 2015.”
“There has been no retraction by Mr. Elenes,” Bauer reminded the ALRB. “The UFW and Mr. Elenes have refused to retract the conduct, which until they do, is a continuous course of conduct.” Even so, the ALRB quashed the investigation.
In his original March 24 letter, ALRB Regional Director Shawver told Lopez, through her attorney, that he received the charge, which he assigned “to the investigative team of Attorney Susana Naranjo and Field Examiner Victoria Torrez.” Shawver stated that Naranjo and Torrez would contact Lopez or her attorney “in the coming days in order to commence the investigation.”
“We will expeditiously conduct a parallel investigation and seek evidence and testimony from Ms. Lopez and the UFW simultaneously. We intend to conclude our investigation within 30 days based on the information we obtain,” Shawver added.
Shortly after writing those words, Shawver quashed the investigation.