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April 2017, Volume 23, Number 2

UFW, ALRB, Unions

Cesar Chavez's birthday was celebrated March 31; Chavez died in 1993. Many of the marches held around Chavez's birthday protested the immigration policies of President Trump, reflecting the UFW's interest in protecting and legalizing unauthorized workers. Many schools organized essay-writing contests and organized days of service in honor of Chavez, whose motto was "Si, se puede," yes we can.

Marches held on April 1, 2017 were often smaller than in past years, with organizers saying that farm workers feared police and immigration agents. In the Napa-Sonoma area, where the UFW has contacts with Gallo, St Supery, Balleto, and CK Mondavi, only 250 of the projected 1,000 people participated.

The UFW was found in March 2017 to have underpaid up to 160 of its organizers in the Salinas Valley over the past four years. A Monterey county judge ordered the UFW to pay organizers at least $665,000 in back pay, $119,000 for paystub violations because the UFW did not list hours worked, and $235,000 in penalties.

The UFW vowed to appeal, saying that lead plaintiff Francisco Cerritos, who was fired from the UFW shortly after the UFW signed an agreement with its employee union, La Union Es Para Todos in May 2013, received help from outsiders to sue the UFW. Cerritos, who was hired to help administer the UFW's contract with Dole Berry North, said he received help from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which was replaced by the UFW at Foster Farms' Livingston plant in 2016.

ALRB. Bill Gould, who resigned in January 2017 after serving as chair of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board for three years, noted that there was only one union petition for a representation election during his tenure, but there were several efforts to decertify incumbent unions. Gould attributed the lack of union organizing to the fact that over half of the state's farm workers are unauthorized, which means that farm workers "have no incentive" to get involved with the government.

Genevieve Shiroma, who has been on the ALRB since 1999, was appointed chair, and ex-Senator Isadore Hall (D-Compton) was appointed to the Board.

The Gerawan case continues. The UFW won an election at Gerawan in 1990, but no contract was negotiated. A mandatory mediation law was enacted in 2003 allowing unions to request negotiations at "old certifications" if the employer committed an unfair labor practice, and in 2012 the UFW returned to Gerawan and, when no contract was reached, requested mandatory mediation. Gerawan workers requested a decertification election, but the ALRB concluded that Gerawan interfered and the workers' votes were not counted.

Ex-field examiner Pauline Alvarez in 2015 charged that ALRB employees assisted the UFW to develop evidence of Gerawan's interference. New Board member Hall was endorsed by the UFW in an unsuccessful run for Congress, raising questions about UFW-ALRB links.

Unions. The share of wage and salary workers who were union members fell to 10.7 percent in 2016, down from 20 percent in 1983. The number of union members was 14.6 million, down from 17.7 million in 1983.

Some 34 percent of public sector workers, and six percent of private sector workers, were union members. The private sector is much larger, so there were 7.4 million private sector union workers and 7.1 million public sector union workers. Unionization rates were highest for local government workers such as teachers, police officers and firefighters, over 40 percent, and less than two percent in agriculture, restaurants and professional and technical services.

Union workers earned an average $1,000 a week in 2016, 20 percent more than the $800 earned by non-union workers. Almost 24 percent of New York workers were union members, compared to less than two percent of South Carolina workers.

The AFL-CIO, which includes 55 unions that represent 12.5 million workers, announced in February 2017 that up to 10 percent of its 400 staff would be laid off because of declining revenue.

Worker centers. Worker centers such as Fight for $15 are not unions, even though some receive financial support from unions. Unions are required to make financial disclosures to DOL, but worker centers are not.

Some worker centers have significant budgets. The budget of Restaurant Opportunities Center United more than doubled from $3 million in 2013 to $7 million in 2014, as ROC United pushes to get states to abolish the lower minimum wage for tipped employees.