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April 2009, Volume 15, Number 2

UFW, ALRB, California Unions

There were marches around the US in honor of Cesar Chavez near his birthday, March 31, a state holiday in California and nine other states: Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and Rhode Island (www.cesarchavezholiday.org). Chavez died in 1993 at the age of 66.

In cities around California, Chavez-day crowds were dominated by the purple shirts of supporters of the Service Employees International Union and the red shirts of supporters of the United Farm Workers. Speakers urged Congress to approve comprehensive immigration reform that provides an easy path to legal status for unauthorized foreigners.

On March 31, 2009 a coalition of farm worker advocates including ex-UFW general counsel Jerry Cohen asked Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis to endorse their effort to include farm workers under the National Labor Relations Act.

The United Farm Workers filed data on its RFK health care plan and its JDLC pension plan for 2007. In 2007, farm employers paid $13.7 million in premiums to the RFK plan, which paid $14.1 million for covered workers' health care (workers contributed $0.2 million to the plan).

The JDLC pension plan had $113 million in assets at the end of 2007, and paid $5.1 million in benefits to retired workers. Most of the JDLC pension's plans earnings of $9.5 million in 2007 came from investment gains; employers contributed $0.6 million. The JDLC pension plan had 9,700 members, but it is not clear how many received pension benefits.

ALRB. Governor Schwarzenegger named former Assemblywoman Sharon Runner to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board in February but, within weeks, appointed her to the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. Runner was termed out in 2008 after six years in the Legislature. The UFW criticized Runner's appointment to the ALRB.

There are currently three board members, Guadalupe Almaraz (chair), Genevieve A. Shiroma, Cathryn Rivera-Hernandez.

In Woolf Farming (35 ALRB 2), the ALRB in March 2009 upheld an ALJ decision that Woolf did not retaliate against tractor driver Agustine Lara for engaging in protected concerted activities. Lara and another worker complained about poor treatment by their supervisor, including preparing an anonymous letter for Stuart Woolf. Lara was later fired for stealing Round Up; his contention that he was merely pretending to steal the herbicide was not considered credible.

An Investigative Hearing Examiner in March 2009 set aside the results of a June 25, 2007 decertification election at Gallo of Sonoma that the UFW lost 95-125. The employee list supplied by Gallo included 65 direct hires and 217 contractor employees who were in the bargaining unit; the IHE found that there were 82 out-of-area or invalid addresses on the list. The UFW filed objections, and the IHE agreed that providing so many incomplete addresses to the UFW invalidated the election results.

SB 789 would allow California farm worker unions to be certified to represent workers without a secret ballot election; unions say that a "card check" procedure is needed because employers intimidate workers during the brief election campaign typical in agriculture. Currently, the ALRB must hold an election within seven days of receiving a union's request, or two days if there is a strike in progress.

The California Legislature in August 2008 approved a similar bill, AB 2386, that would have given farm workers two ways to choose a bargaining representative, the current ALRB-supervised secret ballot election process and a new "mediated" election process. Under the new procedure, unions could obtain a list of workers employed on a farm through the ALRB. Union representatives could visit workers at home or work and ask them to mark a ballot and sign an envelope that could be delivered to the to the ALRB. The worker's ballot choices would be union representation, request a secret ballot election, or no union.

If a majority of workers voted for union representation through this process, the ALRB could recognize the union as their bargaining representative without a secret-ballot election. Unions called this absentee voting; critics called it a way for unions to pressure workers to support the union.

Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed AB 2386, saying in his veto message that allowing unions to receive and distribute ballots could invade the privacy and weaken the rights of farm workers, including the right to reject union representation.

The agricultural division of UFCW Local 5 (www.ufcw5.org/CalAg.htm) has been active organizing workers in San Joaquin Valley dairies. Many of the elections result in disputes over whether individuals related to farm owners are eligible to vote. The result is sometimes a significant delay between elections, negotiations and contracts.

UFCW Local 5 won an election to represent the 25 employees of Boschma & Sons Dairy in November 2007, but was not certified by the ALRB until January 2008 because of disputes over who was eligible to vote. After failing to reach a contract, the ALRB appointed a mediator in November 2008, and in December 2008 accepted the mediator's recommended contract.

There were six mandatory mediation cases resolved between 2003 and 2008. Three resulted in the parties reaching a contract during the mediation process (Pictsweet, Valley View, and D'Arrigo), two resulted in contracts being imposed (Hess and Boschma), and one employer went out of business (Bayou Vista Dairy).

UFCW Local 5 was decertified at Valley View Farms, a dairy near Hanford, by a 32-7 vote in January 2009, and lost an election at Mayflower-Rio Blanco Dairy in Pixley on December 14, 2008.

The UFW was decertified at Artesia Dairy on a 27-28 vote in February 2009 after a Court of Appeals ordered that the votes of some relatives of the employer be counted. The ALRB certified the UFW as the bargaining representative on 27-25 vote in 2007; the election was held March 7, 2006, and there were 15 challenged ballots.

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, the first chair of the ALRB in 1975, is an outspoken proponent of immigration reform. In an April 2009 speech, Mahoney said that his father's poultry processing plant in the San Fernando Valley was raided in 1948 by the Border Patrol. Even though none of the workers were arrested, the raid convinced him of the need to help farm-related workers.

SEIU. The national leadership of the Service Employees International Union in January 2009 decided to merge three California locals into one 240,000-member local representing nursing home workers and home health aides, creating the second-largest SEIU local in the US. The SEIU has about 1.7 million members, over 10 percent of all US union members.

Sal Rosselli, head of a 150,000-member local based in Oakland that stood to lose 65,000 members, opposed the merger, which he said was retaliation by SEIU President Andy Stern for Rosselli's opposition to Stern's top-down management and "sweetheart" deals with some nursing home operators. The UHW demanded an election to determine if the home-health care aides in its local wanted to shift to the new statewide local, prompting Stern to replace Rosselli with two trustees.

National SEIU leaders say a single union local representing all home health-care aides in the state is best. Stern, who added 700,000 members to the SEIU since becoming president in 1996, argues that mega-locals negotiating from strength are better for all, even if the agreements they reach do not provide maximum wages and benefits that smaller groups of workers might win.

Rosselli responded by forming a new union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which sought to represent health care workers in competition with the SEIU. Within a week, the NUHW said it had obtained signed authorization cards from a majority of employees at 64 health-care facilities.

The Southern California SEIU home health-care local, the 160,000-member United Long-Term Care Workers, sued its former president, Tyrone Freeman, demanding the return of $1.1 million. Freeman was removed from office in August 2008.

California's In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program cost $1.9 billion in 2008-09. The cost is rising as more elderly and disabled residents obtain the services of in-home aidesÑ enrollment doubled to 444,000 since 1998. About half of the increased spending over that time is due to rising enrollment and half is due to higher wages negotiated by unions on a county-by-county basis.

The average hourly wage of IHSS aides is $10, and ranged in 2009 from the minimum wage of $1 to $14.68 in Santa Clara. In-home aides can be paid for a maximum 283 hours a month. Unions say the program is a bargain because the state pays an average $10,000 a year for in-home care that would cost over $50,000 in nursing homes and similar institutions.

Critics note that half of those who provide in-home care are relatives of the person being cared for. Because of the budget deficit, the governor proposed reducing the state's contribution for in-home aides to $8 an hour plus $0.60 an hour for health benefits.

SAG. The 120,000-member Screen Actors Guild, the union founded in 1933 to represent actors and actresses, was rocked by ideological battles in the late 1940s and 1950s that led to blacklisting and again in 2008-09 over pay for movies and other shows that appear on the internet. The SAG's 71 board members voted to fire their chief negotiator and in April 2009 were poised to accept a slightly sweetened offer from the studios that offers no residual payments for internet shows.

The contract expired in June 2008. The former negotiator urged a strike, but many board members said a strike would leave the majority of members who do not act regularly with even less chance of finding jobs. SAG may merge with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Robert Delaney, "Cardinal Mahony says enforcement-only immigration policy not humane," Boston Pilot, April 7, 2009. Juliet Williams, "Farmworker union opposes Schwarzenegger appointee," San Jose Mercury News, February 27, 2008.


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