April 1996, Volume 2, Number 2
UFW Settles with BCI
On March 29, 1996, the UFW and Salinas vegetable grower Bruce
Church, Inc. settled a labor dispute that dates from 1978. Under the
pact, the two sides would withdraw all labor charges and lawsuits
against each other, and they will enter into a five-year collective
bargaining agreement, the UFW's largest vegetable contract.
The proposed settlement is being submitted to UFW members for
their approval in mid-April; the Agricultural Labor Relations Board
must also approve the settlement.
The UFW-BCI dispute began in February 1979, when the UFW called a
strike and launched a boycott of BCI lettuce to protest the failure
to reach agreement on a new contract--the UFW alleged that BCI
prevented agreement by insisting that the contract not include the
broad "good standing" clause permitted by the ALRA--the ALRA permits
unions to set any duly adopted and reasonable conditions that union
members must satisfy to be in "good standing" and keep their jobs.
BCI argued that such a broad good standing clause would give the
UFW "too much control over its workers," and might lower the quality
of its products. BCI hired replacement workers and mounted a
publicity campaign to promote its "Red Coach" lettuce.
As a result of the UFW boycott, McDonald's, Lucky grocery stores,
and other BCI customers stopped buying BCI lettuce. On March 21,
1984, BCI, which grew about 60 percent of its lettuce in California
and 40 percent in Arizona, sued the UFW in Arizona for engaging in
illegal secondary boycott activities, since Arizona's farm labor
relations law prohibits secondary boycotts.
BCI won damage judgments against the UFW in 1988 and 1993, but
both judgments were set aside on appeal. The Arizona Court of Appeals
on February 16, 1995 overturned the second judgment-- a $2.9 million
assessment that a jury, by a 9 to 3 vote, had levied against the UFW
in June 1993. The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that the trial judge
had improperly instructed the jury that the California law did not
apply, even though the UFW did not engage in boycott activities in
Arizona. Cesar Chavez died in Arizona in April 1993 during the second
trial of the BCI case.
BCI and the UFW were scheduled to present their cases to the ALRB
in March 1996 for alleged BCI bad faith bargaining in a case
involving 170 workers, but both sides agreed to postpone the hearing.
If approved, the BCI-UFW agreement would settle one of the
longest-running farm labor disputes.
BCI is the third largest fresh vegetable grower in the US, with
1995 sales of $125 million.
The Los Angeles Times ran a page one story February 17, 1996 on
the resurgent UFW, noting that the UFW had won 13 straight elections
in California and Washington, and brought 4,000 workers under
contract. John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, says that the UFW
has become a sparkling example of a "new spirit in labor."
The UFW is trying to "take wages out of competition" by organizing
most of the workers in a particular commodity. The UFW's radio
stations invite farm workers with problems to call the union.
The UFW says it represents half of California's rose workers, and
two-thirds of the mushroom workers in the Central Coast. It is
rumored that the UFW will target strawberry workers in 1996.
The revival of the UFW is reflected in the program's of grower
organizations--the Ag Personnel Management Association's program held
in March 1996 in Ventura included sessions on "surviving the
organizing attempt" and "union proofing your work force."
The UFW claims 24,000 members, plus 10,000 associate members who
pay an annual $20 fee for services such as income tax preparation;
other estimates put the number of UFW members at 12,000. In a CNN
interview March 4, UFW president Rodriguez asserted that the UFW
"can't put an employer out of business. That does us no good. That
does the farmworkers no good."
On February 22, 1996, the UFW announced that they may launch a
coordinated effort with the Teamsters in Washington--the UFW would
organize apple harvesters, and the Teamsters the nonfarm workers who
pack the apples. There are an estimated 40,000 apple pickers, and
another 13,000 nonfarm workers are employed at an average wage of
$6.50 to pack apples.
If the two past union rivals cooperate in Washington, they can
obtain AFL-CIO funds that are set aside for joint-union organizing
campaigns. The same joint organizing strategy may also be tried in
The AFL-CIO pledged to spend $100 million on union organizing in
1996-97, and promised $1 for every $4 that its 78-member unions spend
Hispanics are about 10.2 percent of the US population, and they
are about eight percent of US union members--about 1.4 million of the
AFL-CIO's members are Hispanics.
Even the California Farmer ran a story in February 1996 that
warned farmers that the UFW has not gone away.
The UFW won an election at former J&M Rose Growers in
Wasco-Schafter December 22, 1995 by a vote of 175-114. J&M was
bought by a French company, CP Meilland, in Fall 1995, and laid off
Many workers employed in the San Joaquin Valley rose industry are
grape workers in the summer months.
The UFW re-negotiated three Coachella Valley contracts with Sun
World in Fall 1995 and, even though wages rise over the four-year
life of the contract, they decrease by four to nine percent in the
first year. Sun World's contribution to the RFK health plan will fall
by 20 percent under the 1995-99 contract.
Sun World has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings since
October 1994. Cadiz Land Co made a $175 million offer for Sun World
in January 1996.
In Florida, the UFW is boycotting Prime-label mushrooms from
Quincy Farms--a 615- employee operation near Tallahassee, Florida--to
win recognition and a contract. Workers, mostly born in Mexico and El
Salvador, earn an average $180 to $270 weekly, but they complain of
arbitrary treatment on the job, including having to sign a statement
taking responsibility before seeing a company doctor for treatment of
work place injuries.
On March 14, Quincy Farms dismissed pickers who participated in a
UFW rally. The UFW has nine organizers in the area.
There are no seasonal farm workers under union contract in
Florida, and no federal or state law obligates Florida farm employers
to recognize or to bargain with farm workers. Florida is also a
right-to-work state, which means that, even if the UFW negotiates a
contract, some workers could elect not to become UFW members.
Mireya Navarro, "Dismissed Mushroom Pickers Fight for Union
Representation," New York Times, April 11, 1996. Aurelio Rojas, "
UFW, Grower End Historic Labor Dispute," San Francisco Chronicle,
April 6, 1996. "Cesar Chavez's Legacy Carried on by UFW," CNN, March
4, 1996. Stuart Silverstein, "Teamsters and UFW talks could yield
historic alliance," Los Angeles Times, February 21, 1996. Mark Arax,
"The UFW gets back to its roots," Los Angeles Times, February 17,
1996. Bob Johnson, "Not Fade Away," California Farmer, February 1996,