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April 1997, Volume 3, Number 2

UFW: Suits Housing and Unions

The founder of the CRLA, James Lorenz, filed a suit on behalf of two former organizers in January 1997 against the UFW in Santa Cruz County Superior Court, charging that the UFW directed women to recruit new members by having sexual relations with them. Dolores Huerta countered "It's pretty obvious that the growers orchestrated this thing." Three of seven members of the UFW's national executive board are women.

One of the women who filed suit was a woman who began volunteering for the UFW in 1995 and was hired as an organizer in February-March 1996. According to the complaint, she was told: "If the farmworkers don't want to sign the union card, go to bed with them. . . . Who cares if you get a little dusty?"

The grower-financed Strawberry Workers & Farmers Alliance called for an investigation of conditions for UFW organizers, arguing that many organizers do not receive health care or pension coverage. According to the Alliance, the UFW's pension plan has $80 million in assets.

Housing. The UFW-affiliated National Farm Workers Service Center opened a 150-unit townhouse in Fresno in March 1997, Casa Velasco, at the intersection of Fruit and Ashlan avenues. The apartments are for all low- to moderate-income residents, not just farm laborers. Paul Chavez, Cesar Chavez's son, is president of the NFWSC.

Fresno's inner city, generally considered to be those neighborhoods south of Shaw Avenue, has relatively high vacancy rates, 12 percent, but most new construction is in the northern parts of Fresno and its suburbs.

A bill pending in the Washington Legislature would permit farm employers to house seasonal workers in tents during the summer months. If tents are used, they must have solid floors, seven-foot ceilings and 50 square feet for each person. The UFW opposes the bill.

Unions. According to a New York Times, the UFW's membership fell from 80,000 in 1970 to 21,000 in 1993, and stands in 1997 at 26,000.

The UFW negotiated a new five-year contract for the 400 workers employed by Monterey Mushrooms in Morgan Hill. The UFW also represents 500 Monterey Mushrooms workers in Watsonville.

The UFW won an election at the L.E. Cook nursery in Visalia on February 11, 1997 by a vote of 146 to 51 after an extremely short campaign--the UFW filed a notice to take access to the nursery on January 24, 1997. A Cook supervisor was thought to be a union sympathizer.

The AFL-CIO announced that its affiliated unions' membership totaled 12.9 million in 1996, up 12,000 from 1995. The percentage of US union members who are women increased to 39 percent in 1996 from 22 percent in 1972.

The AFL-CIO during its mid-February meeting in Los Angeles opposed the extension of NAFTA to other countries unless the trade agreements included stronger labor and environmental protections. Shifting the AFL-CIO's annual meeting from Miami to Los Angeles was considered significant for Hispanics and immigrants. Miguel Contreras, secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and his wife, Maria Elena Durazo, president of the local Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union Local 11, are both ex-farm workers from the San Joaquin Valley who first got involved in union activities through the UFW. The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor represents 325 unions with 700,000 members in Los Angeles County.

Under the motto, "Organizing for Change, Changing to Organize," the AFL-CIO pledged to devote 30 percent of its budget to organizing and urged its international unions to do the same. According to University of Pittsburgh business professor Marick F. Masters, the annual revenues of US unions are $5 billion and, if one-third of these revenues are devoted to organizing, organizing budgets would jump from $200 million to $1.65 billion.

DOL reported on January 31, 1997 that there were 16.2 million union members in 1996, or that 14.5 percent of the 112 employed wage and salary workers were union members. About 18.2 million workers, or 16.2 percent of wage and salary workers, were represented by unions, meaning that they worked under collective bargaining agreements.

About 13.2 million union members were white in 1996 (13.1 million in 1995), 2.4 million were Black (2.5 million in 1995), and 1.4 million were Hispanic (1.4 million in 1995). Full-time union members had median weekly earnings of $615 in 1996, compared with $462 for non-union workers.

The occupation with the highest percentage of union members was protective services--850,000 of 2.2 million police and security guards, or 40 percent, were union members. About five percent of those with farming, forestry or fishing occupations--92,000 of 1.9 million--were union members. Full-time union members with farming, forestry, or fishing occupations had median weekly earnings of $439 in 1996, a wage premium of 34 percent over the $288 of non-union workers.

Workers employed by the industry government were most likely to be union members--38 percent, or 6.9 million of 18.2 million government employees were union members. Those employed in the agricultural industry were least likely to be union members--only two percent, or 32,000 of 1.7 million. Full-time union members in the agricultural industry had median weekly earnings of $306 in 1996, about the same median weekly earnings of non-union workers, $305.

Gallo. In a lengthy profile of the E.&J. Gallo Winery's move into higher quality wines, the Los Angeles Times on March 2, 1997 reported that Gallo is one of the biggest landowners in Sonoma county, owning 6,000 acres, including 2,500 acres of grapes.

Gallo bought a 1,700-acre cattle ranch in Sonoma county for $7 million in 1996. About 25 percent of US wine is produced by Gallo, which had 5,000 employees and sales of $1 billion in 1996.

In July 1994, 107 farm workers at the Gallo winery in Sonoma county voted 81 to 21 to have the UFW represent them and the ALRB certified the UFW as bargaining representative for Gallo's Sonoma farm workers. On August 27, 1996, the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno reinstated the UFW election victory at the Gallo winery, overturning a superior court judge's ruling that the ALRB erred in permitting the election to be held using year earlier employment levels to determine that employment was at least 50 percent of peak employment. The California Supreme Court refused to hear Gallo's appeal and in December 1996, Gallo sent the UFW a letter offering to begin negotiations.

According to some reports, Gallo failed to sell the vintage-dated varietal wines introduced in the mid-1980s because of lingering anti-Gallo from UFW boycotts of the 1970s. In 1995, Gallo introduced the Turning Leaf label, and in 1996 the Gossamer Bay label, and sold upwards of two million cases at $5 to $10 per bottle, a major success. Neither label has the Gallo name; both say--"Vinted And Bottled By Turning Leaf Vineyards, Modesto, California."

A federal jury in April 1997 concluded that Gallo did not deliberately copy the Kendall-Jackson label for its new premium wines to deceive consumers. Kendall-Jackson is the fastest-growing winery in California.

US per capita wine consumption fell 25 percent over the past decade, to 499 million gallons in 1996, so wine makers are trying to increase their profits by selling upscale wines. Chardonnay and white zinfandel each represented about 14 percent of the volume of wine shipped in 1996, while cabernet sauvignon accounted for eight percent of supermarket sales and merlot four percent.

California wineries had record sales of $5.2 billion from shipping 353 million gallons of wine in 1996. At Gallo, profits are about four percent of sales, compared with three percent at Canandaigua Wine Co., whose Inglenook, Almaden and Cook labels account for about 18 percent of US wine sales. Mondavi, the sixth largest US winery, earns about eight percent profit on its wines.

Richard Estrada, "Declining wages of migrant farmworkers result of labor oversupply and not racism," Chicago Tribune, April 8, 1997. Jim Steinburg, "Farmworkers celebrate new home," Fresno Bee, March 6, 1997. Barry Stavro, "A new vintage Gallo," Los Angeles Times, March 2, 1997. K.L. Billingsley, "Farm union sued over harassment," Washington Times, February 3, 1997.