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October 2005, Volume 11, Number 4

UFW: Giumarra, Gallo, CA-US Unions

The UFW lost its biggest organizing drive in years when 3,000 workers at Giumarra Vineyards voted for no union on September 1, 2005. The vote was 1,121 to 1,246, or 47-53 percent, with 171 challenged ballots. The UFW filed objections, alleging that some workers were warned before the vote that they might lose their Giumarra housing if the UFW won, that unauthorized workers may be fired, and that Giumarra may switch from table grapes to wine grapes.

The UFW was expecting to win the vote, citing two Giumarra workers who died of heat stress in 2005 as well as the Giumarra practice of not providing tables or umbrellas for workers who pack grapes. The UFW sent 16 organizers to Giumarra, and they persuaded over 2,000 Giumarra workers to sign cards asking the UFW to represent them.

Giumarra, considered the world's largest table-grape grower, has 10,000 acres of grapes and farm land in Kern and Tulare counties. Workers in 40 crews voted. Most grapes are picked by trios, with two workers cutting bunches of grapes and a third packing them into 22-pound cartons-- most teams pick and pack at the rate of 10 to 12 boxes an hour. Giumarra grape pickers are paid $7 an hour plus a bonus of $0.10 a box, so that most earn $8 to $9 an hour. Most growers provide wheelbarrows to move picked lugs to shaded packing stations; Giumarra does not.

Giumarra packs grapes by size into four boxes, so that workers kneel on the ground to pack rather than use shaded packing tables used by growers with only two sized boxes. One family of three reported earning $175 a day and paying $850 a month for room and board in a labor camp, driving themselves to work.

Giumarra distributed flyers that showed the UFW's eagle swooping in and taking two percent of the workers' pay and providing nothing in return. In 2003, almost 75 percent of the workers at Kenneth Kovacevich farms signed union authorization cards, but the UFW lost the election. The UFW had a contract with Giumarra from 1970 to 1973, and Giumarra workers voted against the UFW in an ALRB-supervised election in 1977.

Gallo. The UFW called for a boycott of Gallo wines in June 2005 to persuade Gallo to provide benefits to workers brought to the vineyard by farm labor contractors. In mid-September 2005, Gallo and the UFW negotiated a new contract for the 300 employees of Gallo of Sonoma, a small fraction of E.&J. Gallo Winery of Modesto's 4,400 farm and nonfarm workers. Including a unilateral raise Gallo granted in April 2005, the Gallo of Sonoma workers will see their base hourly pay rise 9.5 percent to $8.98 by the end of the 30-month contract.

The 228 workers brought to Gallo by FLCs were at the heart of the lengthy negotiations. They pay the same two percent union dues as directly hired workers, but do not get health insurance and other benefits. Under the new contract, they will for the first time have the right to file grievances over discipline and seniority issues. Directly hired workers will receive an increased Gallo payment for health insurance, so that the average family pays $27 a month for coverage (down from $85). FLC workers who do not have health insurance will receive a $400 one-time bonus payment.

ALRB General Counsel Norma Turner, who retired from the ALRB on July 31, 2005, issued a complaint against the UFW on July 21, 2005, the same day that Gallo and the UFW had a bargaining session. The General Counsel charged the UFW with bad-faith bargaining at Gallo.

The UFW re-negotiated a contract with Waterdam Packing in Hanford in May 2005 that raises wages to at least $7 an hour; the contract expires in December 2008. Waterdam is permitted to hire workers through FLCs after direct hires reach 220 workers. The UFW was certified as the bargaining representative for Waterdam farm workers in August 1994.

Jorge Humberto Rivera, chief labor negotiator for the United Farm Workers Union since 1998, died in September 2005. Major agreements reached during his tenure included contracts with Columbia Crest winery in Washington, Quincy Mushroom Farms in Florida and Gallo of Sonoma.

Los Angeles Weekly in August 2005 ran a story on the UFW entitled "Sour Grapes" that quoted a 1993 assessment of the UFW:"[A]t the time of Cesar Chavez's death, the UFW was not primarily a farmworker organization. It was a fund-raising operation, run out of a deserted tuberculosis sanitarium in the Tehachapi Mountains, far from the fields of famous Delano, staffed by members of Cesar's extended family and using as its political capital Cesar's legend and the warm memories of millions of aging boycotters."

The Los Angeles Weekly article concluded that the UFW has not changed since 1993, and quoted "long-time UFW sympathizers" as saying that a 2004 series of articles in the Bakersfield Californian detailing the inter-relationships between the various non-profits and for-profits of the extended UFW as "accurate." Staff salaries rose six-fold between 1992 and 2004, with public contributions, not union dues, the primary source of revenue.

1965. Filipino Larry Itliong, head of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), an AFL-CIO affiliate, called a seven-week strike against Coachella grape growers on May 3, 1965. Workers were guaranteed $1.25 an hour, and they wanted the $1.40 an hour that growers had to pay to Braceros (the Bracero program ended in 1964). Eventually, the workers got the $1.40 they demanded, but growers refused to recognize the AWOC or negotiate a contract.

As the grape harvest moved north to Delano, the AWOC asked Delano-area growers to pay $1.40 an hour, but they refused. The AWOC's 1,500 members went on strike September 8, 1965, and Cesar Chavez's National Farm Workers Association joined the strike on September 16, 1965. AWOC members, most of whom lived in on-farm labor camps, were vulnerable to eviction from their housing by going on strike, and depended on support from Filipino professionals in the Bay area.

Unions. California's public employee unions of teachers, prison guards and local and state workers are among the most powerful in the US, but they are under a potential threat. If voters approve Proposition 75 on the November 2005 ballot, the so-called paycheck protection initiative, unions would have to obtain written permission from members each year before directing money from their dues to political campaigns. California has 2.4 million union members, including 1.3 million in the public sector.

About 37,000 or 21 percent of the 175,000 state workers represented by unions are agency fee payers rather than union members, meaning that they can request an accounting of how their dues were spent and refunds for payments used for political activities. About nine percent of the 335,000 teachers represented by the California Teachers Association are agency fee payers. One state employee represented by the SEIU said he paid $540 in union dues and fees, and was entitled to a refund of $236 or 44 percent if he sent a letter to the SEIU requesting a refund by July 25.

Similar measures in other states led to dramatic decreases in political contributions. For example, in Utah in 2002 only seven percent of members of the teachers union agreed to allow their dues to be spent on politics, and the percentage was similar in Washington. Voters in 1998 rejected Proposition 226 on a 53-47 vote, a similar measure that would have applied to all California unions, private and public, and state unions have begun collecting signatures for a "shareholders protection initiative" that would require corporations to get the approval of shareholders before spending money on political campaigns.

California had 2.6 million workers, including 55 percent public sector workers, in collective bargaining units in 2002. However, not all of these are union members- a third of the 87,000 workers represented by the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees have not joined, but virtually all those represented by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association and the California Association of Highway Patrolmen are union members.

The California State Employees Association is an umbrella organization for 140,000 members in four affiliate unions, including SEIU Local 1000, which has 87,000 state worker members. The SEIU threatened but did not pull out of the CSEA to represent only state employees who are union members; it has been witholding some of the dues owed to the CSEA.

A review of the wages of carpenters and drywallers in Northern California from the CPS found that 75 percent were not union members. Median wages were $16 an hour, including $22 an hour for union workers and $14 for non-union workers. About 40 percent of the workers were not born in the US, and half are Latinos. Labor brokers are increasingly supplying crews of workers to complete construction tasks such as drywall installation. Many contractors have their workers sign statements saying that they are independent contractors, which means the workers are not covered by workers compensation.

US Unions. Four unions representing a third of the AFL-CIO's 13 million members, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (1.4 million members), United Food and Commercial Workers (1.4 million members), Service Employees International Union (1.8 million members), and Unite Here (450,000 members), boycotted the July 2005 convention in Chicago. The Teamsters and SEIU withdrew, taking a fourth of the AFL-CIO's members and $20 million, a sixth of the AFL-CIO's annual $120 million budget (unions pay $7.23 per member per year to the AFL-CIO).

The UFCW withdrew from the AFL-CIO after the convention. Just before the Chicago convention, the UFW joined the Change to Win Federation but did not leave the AFL-CIO. The seven Change to Win unions (SEIU, Teamsters, laborers, carpenters, farm workers, food and commercial workers, and Unite Here) with 5.4 million members met in September 2005 and elected Anna Burger as their leader; meanwhile, the AFL-CIO has shrunk to about nine million members.

The SEIU is the most successful organizer among unions, adding 700,000 members in the past decade by organizing, for instance, janitors and home health care aides. The Change to Win Coalition said it wants to target workers whose jobs cannot easily be moved overseas, such as hospital and home health-care workers, hotel and casino employees, waste haulers and public employees. For example, the SEIU in July 2005 launched a campaign to organize 8,000 janitors employed by Houston-based ABM, the nation's largest cleaning contractor, promising to pressure pension funds in order to pressure ABM to recognize the SEIU as bargaining representative.

AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney, who was re-elected without opposition, accused the dissidents of betraying the core labor concept of solidarity and said that their exodus could sabotage a comeback for organized labor. Most analysts said that there was widespread frustration with the failure of AFL-CIO unions in organizing and politics. The catalyst for the defections from the AFL-CIO was Sweeny's preference for cooperation and solidarity between unions as opposed to the dissidents' demands for forced mergers between smaller unions and aggressive organizing.

The CIO broke away from the AFL in 1935, and the AFL and CIO merged in 1955. A half century later, despite a doubling of the labor force, there are fewer union members than there were in 1955. About 12 percent of all US workers belong to unions, but only eight percent of private sector workers. The 54 unions that remain in the AFL-CIO are divided, with some favoring the current structure while the Change to Win Coalition favors a more powerful central body.

The departure of several large unions from the AFL-CIO led to a re-examination of union effects on wages. A major factor increasing household income over the past quarter century was the entry of married women into the labor force, that is, more workers per household. In the late 1990s, a combination of more jobs and higher wages increased household incomes further. However, productivity increases do not necessarily translate into higher wages, especially for less-skilled workers employed in firms whose products compete in global markets, as in manufacturing.

Mark Arax, "UFW Thinks Climate Is Right to Grow Its Ranks," Los Angeles Times, August 31, 2005. Jordan Rau, "Prop. 75 Could Weaken Clout of Unions," Los Angeles Times, August 14, 2005. Marc Cooper, "Sour Grapes," Los Angeles Weekly, August 12-18, 2005.