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July 2007, Volume 13, Number 3

California: UFW, ALRB, Card Checks

UFW. The UFW has two major goals in 2007, getting AgJOBS immigration reform enacted by Congress and persuading the California Legislature to approve card checks as a substitute for secret ballot elections.

In arguing for AgJOBS, UFW President Arturo Rodriguez asserted that "There is nobody born in America standing in line to work in agriculture today."

The UFW signed a five-year contract with Monterey Mushrooms in Watsonville in May 2007. The new contract increases wages between 8.4 and 13 percent and adds a new holiday, the employee's birthday, for the 600 workers covered. Workers currently earn $9.22 to $18 an hour.

Monterey, owned by Shah Kazemi since the late 1970s, had sales of $769 million in 2005. It produces about 750,000 pounds of mushrooms a week in Watsonville, far more than the average plant, which produces 100,000 pounds a week. With plants in other states and countries, the firm has a total 3,100 employees.

The UFW-D'Arrigo Brothers Co dispute went to mediation on May 10, 2007. A mediator is to help the parties reach agreement by June 10, 2007 and, if that fails, he can impose a contract. D'Arrigo, which has 25,000 acres in California and Arizona, may reject the contract suggested by the mediator/arbitrator and challenge the constitutionality of the binding mediation law, which was upheld by a Sacramento court in 2006.

The UFW was decertified at Excelsior Farms (Waterdam Packing) in April 2007 on a 239-59 vote; fewer than half of the 670 eligible workers voted. A 2004 decertification effort failed on a 135-195 vote. The contract reached in May 2005 raised wages to at least $7 an hour, but some workers were apparently unhappy about the two percent union dues.

The UFW was also decertified at Gallo of Sonoma on a 125-95 vote in June 2007; the UFW was decertified at Sonoma Cutrer Vineyards in 2003, and in 2007, Charles Krug ended over three decades of UFW contracts by subcontracting its farm work to a vineyard manager (the UFW is challenging Krug's action). Roberto Parra, a former UFW ranch committee member who spearheaded the decertification effort at Gallo's 3,200-acre Sonoma operation, said that the UFW did not earn the two percent of wages workers paid in dues.

There was a decertification vote in 2003, but the votes were not counted because of Gallo interference. Gallo and the UFW signed a contract in 2005 that was extended in May 2007 to 2011. Gallo has 80 full-time workers, including Parra, and obtained another 220 workers from four labor contractors.

The Jackson-Perkins rose operation, owned by Harry & David Holdings, Inc, was sold for $49 million in April 2007 to a nursery that will take over the remaining plants and a firm that plans to replace roses with almonds on Jackson-Perkins' 3,200 acres near Wasco. Jackson-Perkins, with sales of $74 million a year, is the largest marketer of premium rose plants, selling over six million a year. It is not clear what will happen to the UFW contact, which covered over 1,000 workers.

The UFW's LM-2 report filed with the US Department of Labor for 2006 states that there were 4,592 members at the end of the year, plus 874 retired members. The UFW reported total income of $6.4 million, including $2.3 million from member dues and fees. Expenditures were $6.6 million, including $2.8 million for representational activities. The UFW has about 50 paid employees, including President Arturo Rodriguez, who received $82,000 in 2006.

A 54-year old Mexican worker died on May 9, 2007 while picking peaches, prompting UFW protests.

The House in July 2007 approved a bill that would require the US Department of the Interior to study sites "significant to the life of Cesar E. Chavez and the farm labor movement in the western United States." Interior would examine ways to preserve the sites, recommend some for inclusion with 76,000 others on the National Register of Historic Places, and interpret them to the public. Eight states have some kind of official Chavez Day, including California.

ALRB. The UFW won an election on a 27-25 vote on March 7, 2006 to represent workers at Artesia Dairy in Corcoran. There were challenges to the right of some of the voters, with both the employer and union arguing that some workers' votes should not be counted. The Agricultural Labor Relations Board made case-by-case determinations of the challenged voters' eligibility.

California is the nation's largest producer of milk, with about 20 percent of US cows. Many of the state's dairies have 10 to 20 employees, and San Jose-based United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 has been trying to organize some of them. However, the UFCW says that, when it begins to organize, many dairies add workers to their payrolls, including family members, in an apparent bid to tilt the vote against the union. After the election, there are challenges to some of those who voted, delaying certification and bargaining.

The UFCW won a vote at the 10,000-cow Bayou Vista Dairy in Tipton, which was sold after Bayou was ordered to begin mandatory mediation to reach a first contract.

On June 16, 2007, 20 farm workers shared a $252,000 settlement that the United Food and Commercial Worker Local 1096 reached with Napa-based Hess Collection Winery over their unfair dismissal. The state's 2002 amendment to the ALRA that calls for binding arbitration to reach contracts was first invoked with Hess, which refused to participate, challenged the constitutionality of binding arbitration, and lost. The UFCW won an election to represent Hess workers in March 1999; the contract imposed by the mediator expires in July 2007.

In June 2007, the ALRB ruled that Napa's Krug Winery, owned by the Peter Mondavi family, discriminated against 27 former workers represented by the UFW when it dismissed them on July 6, 2007 and turned to a vineyard management firm to care for its grapes. The ALRB General Counsel issued a complaint that Krug had failed to bargain in good faith with the UFW before subcontracting out its vineyard work, and that the 27 workers are due back wages. Krug and the UFW were unable to reach a new agreement because the UFW refused Krug's request to have workers undergo physical exams. The UFW has represented the Krug workers since 1977.

Card Checks. SB 180 would allow farm worker unions to fill out authorization cards for workers, including the name of the employer and union. If a majority of workers signed the cards, the ALRB could recognize the union as the workers' bargaining representative without an election. ALRB recognition would trigger a requirement that the employer begin to bargain with the union in good faith for a contract. SB 180 would also raise the penalties for some unfair labor practices.

On June 13, 2007, was approved by the California Senate in June 2007 and by the Assembly 45-33 in July 2007.

SB 180 would help the UFW in cases such as VBZ Grapes http://www.vbzgrapes.com), where it lost an election 425-793 in September 2006 despite getting about 70 percent of workers to sign union authorization cards (VBZ used labor consultants to turn the tide against the UFW just before the election). The UFW won just over half of the elections that it requested between 1990 and 2006.

The ALRB reported that unions won 73 of the 132 elections called between 1990 and 2005. The UFW says that the reason for winning only half of the elections that unions request is because employers hire labor consultants who make last-minute appeals to workers to reject the union. Several Indian gaming compacts are being blocked in the Legislature because they do not include card-check provisions.

Growers oppose SB 180. They note that employers would be required to provide the ALRB with a list of employees within 24 hours of the union submitting what it says are signed authorization cards from a majority of workers- growers say this time period is too short. SB 180 requires bargaining to begin when the ALRB recognizes the union, even if the employer wants to challenge the signatures and process.

The similar Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 800) is the top legislative priority of the AFL-CIO in Congress. The EFCA was approved by the House on March 1, 2007 on a 241-185 vote; the Senate voted 51-48 for the bill on June 26, 2007, but 60 votes were needed to move the bill.

EFCA has three major provisions. First, it would allow unions to win NLRB recognition if a majority of workers in a bargaining unit sign authorization cards, that is, there would no longer be a need for a secret ballot election. Second, the EFCA requires companies and newly certified unions to enter binding arbitration for a two-year contract if they cannot reach agreement on an initial contract after 90 days of negotiations. Third, the EFCA would increase the penalties for unfair labor practices committed by employers during an organizing drive.

Currently, unions can request that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) hold an election when at least 30 percent of the workers in a bargaining union sign authorization cards. Elections are held an average 40 days after unions request them, and unions win 60 percent of them.

Under the EFCA, after 90 days of fruitless bargaining, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service is to assign a mediator for a 30-day period to help the parties reach agreement. If mediation fails, an arbitration board is to determine a first two-year contract.

The EFCA would raise the penalties for unfair labor practices committed during an organizing drive from the current remedy of restoring the worker to the same economic status she would have had if there had been no ULP (rehire an unlawfully fired worker with back pay) to triple back wages plus a civil penalty of up to $20,000.

California SB 319 allows 16- and 17-year olds to work 10 hours a day and 60 hours per week during Lake county's pear harvest, which is in July and August. The law has been in effect for the past 12 years.

Kevin McCallum, "Gallo workers toss out UFW," Press Democrat, June 26, 2007. "Hess loses labor fight," Napa Valley Register, June 17, 2007. Jake Henshaw, "UFW vote bill clears hurdle," Salinas Californian, June 14, 2007.