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July 2004, Volume 10, Number 3

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UFW Series, Unions

The Bakersfield Californian ran a series of articles on the UFW in May 2004 http://www.bakersfield.com/special/ufw/). The UFW's showcase collective bargaining agreement is with Wasco-based Jackson & Perkins, covering 800 workers who produce rose plants. Jackson & Perkins says that the UFW sees its balance sheet and participates in strategic planning meetings, suggesting real employee participation.

Another successful contract is with Monterey Mushrooms, which has had three UFW contracts covering 1,100 workers at two facilities in California. Monterey president Shah Kazemi says "I look at Cesar as a truly American hero."

However, the theme of the series was that most farm workers in the fields have not heard of Cesar Chavez and the UFW. Orange pickers receiving a piece rate of $12 a bin agreed that the rate had not been raised for a decade, and that many contractors require workers to buy picking bags for $40 each even though their daily earnings are often only $50. The pickers interviewed said they had not been contacted by the UFW, and one said of his children: "If I let them come to work in the fields, they might never get out of here."

The UFW's Juan De La Cruz Pension Plan, with $99 million in assets, provides retirement benefits to workers employed at least 500 hours a year under UFW contract for five years. In 2002, the JDLC sent out 2,211 pension checks a month for an average $150, and had 3,536 active contributors. The RFK Health Plan had 2,486 contributing members in 2002.

The UFW's first nonfarm contract, with Bakersfield furniture manufacturer Guy Chaddock & Co in 2001, resulted in an apparent decertification in December 2003. Among other things, the UFW addressed all workers in Spanish and did not seem to realize that the NLRA does not allow contracts that require all workers covered to become union members.

Family Ties. The UFW had 15 non-profit and four for-profit affiliates with net assets of $128 million in 2002, including the $99 million in the Juan De La Cruz Pension Plan and most of the rest in low-income housing. The UFW reportedly spends 15 to 30 percent of its income on fund raising. Since 1991, donations have exceeded dues as a revenue source, in part because the UFW staff expanded and salaries rose, to an average $62,540 for UFW directors in 2002. UFW President Arturo Rodriguez received $71,231 in 2002.

The UFW reported 5,146 members in 2002 to the US Department of Labor and 16,000 in 1994.

Many of the staff of the UFW and its affiliates are related to co-founders Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. Of the 36 people holding 82 director slots in the UFW and its affiliates, at least 15 are related by birth or marriage to someone in a leadership position in the UFW.

The $3 million National Chavez Center at La Paz opened in April 2004, and aims to highlight the UFW's goal: "help 10 million Latinos and working people in 10 years." The Cesar E. Chavez Foundation built the new center with the help of $2.6 million in state grants from Proposition 40, the 2002 Resources Bond Act, approved by voters to fund park and recreation projects.

The National Farm Workers Service Center, headed by Paul Chavez, who received a $125,000 salary in 2002, builds and manages low-income housing with a staff of 225. Radio Campesina, with nine stations in three states that receive programming via satellite from central studios in Bakersfield, is the top Spanish-language radio network in the San Joaquin Valley and No. 2 in Phoenix.

Jacques E. Levy, an editor at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat who wrote a biography of Cesar Chavez, died in April 2004.

Unions. The presidents of five unions representing janitors, hotel maids, carpenters, laundry workers and others have proposed the New Unity Partnership, which envisions reducing the number of national unions in the US from 65 to 15. One of the unions pushing for change is the Service Employees International Union, with 1.6 million members, the largest in the AFL-CIO--the AFL-CIO is a federation of 65 national unions with a combined 13 million members. The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners left the AFL-CIO in 2001, and has since gained members to the current 538,000.

The union share of the private US work force was 8.2 percent in 2003, down from 8.6 percent in 2002.

The New Unity Partnership advocates raising $10 million to $30 million a year to launch a multi-union drive to organize workers at Wal-Mart, the largest US private employer, with 1.3 million employees. The fear is that the Wal-Mart business model -- low wages, relatively few benefits and downward pricing pressure on suppliers -- poses a serious threat to organized labor in the private sector. In the year ending January 31, 2004, Wal-Mart had profits of $9 billion on sales of $256 billion.

In June 2004, a federal judge certified a class-action lawsuit (Betty Dukes vs Wal-Mart) that accuses Wal-Mart of discriminating against women; two-thirds of its employees and a third of its managers are women, and women on average earn less than men in similar positions. Wal-Mart, where 250 unauthorized janitors employed by contractors were arrested in 2003, said it would appeal because hiring and promotion decisions are decentralized in its 3,600 US stores. Attorneys for the women said that in general merchandise stores, about 60 percent of management positions are held by women, compared to 35 percent at Wal-Mart.

The SEIU, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union plan a joint campaign to organize workers at three service companies that collectively employ 1.1 million --France's Sodexho Inc., Britain's Compass Group and Philadelphia-based Aramark Corp. Although some of the employees of these companies are unionized, they have 330,000 nonunion workers in the U.S. and Canada, operating company, school, and hospital cafeterias and providing similar services.

The AFL-CIO is going door-to-door in 10 cities seeking a million members of its non-union organization, Working America, who will support union goals. Individual unions are also building lists of non-member supporters. The SEIU, for example, is aiming for a million members of its Purple Ocean support group, and hoping to call on them to support of SEIU bargaining and political goals.

The NLRB, in a 3-2 vote in July 2004, reversed a 2000 ruling and held that teaching and research assistants at private universities were essentially students, not workers, and thus should not have the right to unionize to negotiate over wages, benefits and other conditions of employment. In many states, graduate students at public universities have unionized under state laws.

ALRB. The ALRB has a staff of 38 and a budget of $3.9 million for 2003-04. The governor's California Performance Review may propose changes for the ALRB.

Levy, Jacques. 1995. Cesar Chavez: Autobiography of La Causa. W.W. Norton.