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January 2008, Volume 14, Number 1

UFW: D'Arrigo, US Unions

The UFW on October 9, 2007 reached a three-year agreement with lettuce grower D'Arrigo Brothers covering 1,500 workers. The UFW won an election to represent D'Arrigo workers in 1975, meaning that it took 32 years to negotiate the contract.

In January 2007, the state's mandatory mediation law added a mediator to spur the parties toward agreement. The UFW dropped or settled ULP charges with D'Arrigo, including persuading the ALRB to vacate a May 2006 decision that found D'Arrigo had bargained in bad faith with the UFW and owed make-whole to its employees since January 28, 2000.

The terms of the D'Arrigo-UFW agreement were not disclosed, but the Los Angeles Times reported that some workers will earn the minimum wage while others will receive a $0.48 per hour increase over three years. D'Arrigo retained the right to decide when skills trump seniority in determining who gets laid off, and workers may not file grievances of pesticides and other management issues.

D'Arrigo can use labor contractors to obtain workers, and their employees are not covered by the D'Arrigo-UFW agreement.

The Los Angeles Times noted that the D'Arrigo-UFW agreement suggests the UFW has lost bargaining power. Its inability to obtain higher wages, according to the article, is fueling decertification elections. The UFW was decertified at Gallo of Sonoma in part because it was unable to win wage increases that covered the two percent of wages deducted for union dues.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled 2-1 in January 2008 that Agri Processor Co, a kosher meat manufacturer in Brooklyn, New York, must bargain with the United Food and Commercial Workers union after workers voted 15-5 for UFCW representation even though most Agri employees are unauthorized. The Court noted that IRCA emphasized that employer sanctions were not to "undermine or diminish in any way labor protections in existing law."

US Unions. The Service Employees International Union, with 1.7 million members, is the nation's fastest-growing union and a major force in Democratic politics. The SEIU announced it would only endorse candidates for president who propose plans for universal health coverage. The SEIU endorsed Howard Dean before the 2004 primaries, and for 2008 is withholding its endorsement, although state SEIU councils are endorsing candidates.

The 4,000 security guards in Los Angeles-area commercial buildings are represented by the SEIU, which was trying to negotiate an agreement for them in Fall 2007 that raised their wages from $8 to $9 an hour to the $13-$14 an hour earned by SEIU-represented janitors. The janitors also have health insurance, vacation pay or other benefits.

The Chrysler-UAW contract approved in October 2007 shifts $19 billion in long-term health care liability to a union-controlled trust fund and creates a two-tiered wage structure in which new hires would earn about half as much as current workers.

California in 2000 enacted a law that forbids employers from using state funds to "deter" their workers from joining a union. The law was overturned by a federal judge, but in 2006, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the state law in a 12-3 decision, saying that the law did not prevent employers from expressing anti-union views, but only prevented them from using state funds to do so. Nine other states have similar laws.

Politics. Political activity to obtain favorable laws and regulations is a time-honored strategy of both unions and employers. The NLRB and DOL came under attack in Fall 2008 for favoring employers.

A December 13, 2007 Congressional hearing heard the employer-oriented chair defend the NLRB, while a union-oriented NLRB board member insisted that recent NLRB decisions favor employer interests. A 3-2 decision in September 2007 drew special ire from unions. It held that, after an employer voluntarily recognizes a union on the basis of signed authorization cards from a majority of workers, there must be a decertification election if at least 30 percent of the employees request one within 45 days of union recognition. Another September 2007 decision allowed employers to withdraw voluntary recognition if a majority of employees signed a petition requesting withdrawal.

The Center for American Progress in December 2007 complained that DOL's Office of Labor-Management Standards has increased reporting requirements on unions to discourage them from helping Democratic candidates; the DOL rule was published July 2, 2007. DOL proposed that the conflict-of-interest reporting form for union leaders, LM-30, expand from two to nine pages, and that more union leaders complete the form- unions are resisting the implementation of the rule.

The NLRB ruled 3-2 in December 2007 that employers can bar employees from using company email systems to send union messages. An Oregon newspaper disciplined a union leader for using an email to clarify the union's position for collective bargaining; an action that the NLRB upheld.

Miriam Pawel, "The withering of the UFW," Los Angeles Times, December 7, 2007.

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