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October 2007, Volume 13, Number 4

California: Pesticides, UFW

Pesticides. The California Department of Public Health released a report in July 2007 suggesting that a high rate of autism in children may be linked to women's exposure to the organochlorine pesticides endosulfan and dicofol (now banned DDT belongs to this type of pesticide). There were eight autistic children in a sample of 29 women living within 500 meters (547 yards) of fields, a rate that is six times higher than for all women.

The pesticides are used to kill mites in cotton and some vegetables, with the heaviest use in Fresno, Kings, Imperial and Tulare counties. Autistic children have impaired social and communication skills.

The US Environmental Protection Agency in October 2007 approved the use of methyl iodide to replace methyl bromide, which has been banned under an international treaty because it damages the earth's ozone layer. The EPA promised critics that required buffer zones around the strawberry and tomato fields being fumigated will protect people. Fields are normally covered with plastic, and the fumigant, sold under the Midas label, is injected into the soil to kill a broad spectrum of insects and diseases without leaving residue on crops.

The Senate Governmental Organization Committee held a hearing on July 19, 2007 that featured testimony from the UFW alleging that August 2005 heat-stress regulations were not being enforced. The state Division of Occupational Safety and Health said that it issued 136 citations in the first seven months of 2007, about the same as in all of 2006, and that most farm employers provided sufficient water, but in some cases workers did not drink enough.

Summer 2007 was cooler than usual, and only one worker, an out-of-state trucker, died due to heat excessive heat; in the Fresno area, there were 27 days with 100+ temperatures, down from the average 36 days. Cal-OSHA has 215 inspectors for all work places, including agriculture, and found most violations of the heat-stress regulations in construction in summer 2007; agriculture was second.

Teamsters Union Local 890 filed a class action suit in October 2007 against three Salinas labor contractors, charging that they did not pay overtime wages or give unauthorized workers meal and rest breaks because of their legal status. The suit charged that the plaintiffs had to pay to get their jobs.

UFW. SB 180, which would allow farm worker unions to win recognition by having a majority of workers sign authorization cards, was approved by the Legislature in August 2007 but vetoed by the governor. The UFW argued that farm workers need to be the first private-sector employees to have an alternative to the secret-ballot elections required by the 1975 Agricultural Labor Relations Act because many are migrants and unauthorized.

The UFW accepted an amendment that requires both the worker and union organizer signing the authorization card to confirm that there was no coercion. An identical bill, SB 650, that would sunset the card-check procedure in 2013, was also approved by the Legislature and vetoed. Under both SB 180 and SB 650, unions could be recognized without a secret-ballot election, but a secret ballot election would be required to decertify a union.

Many newspapers opposed SB 180, using Cesar Chavez's words on the need for state-supervised secret ballot elections to avoid having growers and the Teamsters sign "sweetheart agreements." The UFW opposed amendments to the ALRA for the first quarter century, fearing that opening the law to amendments could result in the loss of important worker and union protections. However, in 2002, the UFW won an amendment to require mandatory mediation or binding arbitration if a union and employer are unable to agree on a first contract.

The governor, who made an unscheduled appearance at a UFW rally September 5, 2007 at the Capitol that was aimed at persuading him to sign SB 180/650 into law, emphasized in his veto message that "strengthening workplace protections for agricultural workers" was one of his "top priorities." Citing more labor law inspectors, reformed farm worker housing laws, and heat-stress regulations, the governor asked the UFW to work with the state to ensure that labor laws and regulations are "vigorously enforced."

The UFW reported 5,504 members to DOL, including 874 retired members.

AB 377, which would require farm labor contractors to disclose on worker pay stubs up to five farms where they worked during the pay period, was vetoed by Schwarzenegger, who said that it would impose an extra burden on licensed contractors and not affect unlicensed contractors. A similar bill without the five-farm cap was vetoed by in 2006.

The UFW in August 2007 announced that the successor of Wasco-based Jackson & Perkins would continue to employ the operation's 665 workers, and provide severance pay if they are dismissed. According to the union, the firm's new owners will hire most of the laid-off workers and sign a two-year contract with the UFW.

The ALRB, in an unusual decision, agreed to vacate its decision in D'Arrigo Brothers (32 ALRB 1) after the UFW and D'Arrigo reportedly reached agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement and dropped the charges they had filed against one another.

The UFW filed over 20 Notices of Intent to Take Access to table grape farms in the southern San Joaquin Valley in summer 2007. If at least 10 percent of the workers on a farm sign authorization cards, the employer must provide the union with a payroll list that includes worker names and addresses.

In 1983, about 22 percent of California's almost 10 million workers were union members. California's wage and salary work force expanded to 15 million by 2006, with 17 percent union members- half of the union members are public employees.

Andy Furillo, "Heat deaths drop as state enforces job rules," Sacramento Bee, September 24, 2007. Marc Lifsher, "UFW wants another way to organize," Los Angeles Times, September 14, 2007. "Schwarzenegger attends farm worker rally at capitol," Salinas Californian, September 5, 2007. Don Thompson, "Bill seeks to change how unions can organize farm workers," Associated Press, August 27, 2007. Marla Cone, "Pesticide link to autism suspected," Los Angeles Times, July 30, 2007.