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July 2002, Volume 8, Number 3

UFW: Arbitration, Members

The UFW is pushing a first-contract arbitration bill, SB 1736, that would require a certified union and an employer who cannot agree on a first contract to request that the ALRB appoint an arbitrator to resolve their differences; the arbitrator's decision would be binding on the employer and the union. The California Senate approved the bill in May 2002.

Under the bill, after certification, the employer and union would have 90 days to come to an agreement; if no agreement is reached, a mediator would have 30 days to try to resolve the differences. If the mediator fails to produce an agreement, either side could petition the ALRB to submit the matter to binding arbitration before a neutral third party, who would conduct a hearing and impose the terms of a collective bargaining agreement.

The bill uses the same language as a 2001 law that requires binding arbitration for grooms seeking their first union contracts [the law also legalized Internet and telephone betting for the horse racing tracks]. In 1985, grooms at race tracks were classified as agricultural employees, reportedly so that they would not be eligible for overtime pay until they had worked 10 hours a day or 60 a week. In 2001, the horse-racing industry backed binding arbitration for track workers in exchange for the state lifting a ban on Internet and telephone betting at the track.

The UFW says that, since 1975, workers on 428 California farms have voted in ALRB-supervised elections for UFW representation, but only 185 contracts were signed between the UFW and growers, an election-to-contract rate of 45 percent [The UFW says that, in 215 cases, workers and employers were unable to negotiate a first contract; in some of the other cases, the farm went out of business].

SB 1736 marks the UFW's first attempt to amend the Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975. The UFW justifies the amendment by asserting: "Only a small minority of farm workers who at one time voted for the UFW have enjoyed the life-improving benefits of union contracts."

Farm employers oppose the UFW bill, arguing that binding arbitration has so far been used only in disputes between police officers and firefighters and their public employers, and only because police officers and firefighters cannot strike. Growers note that the ALRA already includes a make-whole provision that allows the ALRB to order employers to compensate their employees if the employer fails to bargain with a certified union in good faith.

The UFW says that the dispute at Pictsweet Mushrooms in Ventura county motivated its push for SB 1736. The UFW won an election at Pictsweet in 1975, but there has been no contract at Pictsweet since 1987, when the farm was purchased by Tennessee-based United Foods Inc. The UFW and its supporters, including the National Farm Worker Ministry founded in 1971, held rallies in May and June 2002 to protest the lack of a contract at Pictsweet, and to express support for SB 1736. Pictsweet pays mushroom pickers $0.48 a pound, and says that most workers earn at least $8 an hour.

However, Pictsweet workers have tried to have the UFW decertified three times since 2000. The first decertification petition was rejected because it contained invalid signatures, and the other two were blocked after the ALRB found evidence to support charges by the UFW that the company was engaging in unfair labor practices, including supporting the decertification effort.

There were 10 ULP charges brought against Pictsweet, and an administrative law judge in June 2002 found four violations: Pictsweet failed to give notice to and bargain with the United Farm Workers from September 2000 to March 2001 before laying off a number of workers; it failed in 2000 to give employees periodic increases in wages previously agreed upon with the union; it failed to provide information the union requested during bargaining related to the company's profit-sharing plan; and it improperly recalled laid-off workers under agreed-upon rules of seniority.

The ALJ ordered Pictsweet to reimburse workers for any wage or other economic losses they suffered when the company failed to give them customary pay increases in 2000. Pictsweet Mushroom Farms General Manager Ruben Franco said the ALJ decision would be appealed.

Political observers say that the measure may force California Governor Gray Davis, who has been masterful at not burning bridges to interest groups, to pick a side as he campaigns for re-election. With tax breaks for farmers and laws aimed at improving working conditions for farm workers, the governor has managed to win praise from both the United Farm Workers and some agricultural groups.

In Salinas, the UFW says that the 1,400 workers at D'Arrigo Bros, where workers voted for UFW representation in 1975, still do not have a contract. D'Arrigo pays at least $7.05 an hour; the California minimum wage is $6.75 an hour, and workers report earning about $8,000 over the six-month lettuce harvesting season.

The Fresno Bee on July 21, 2002 profiled Hanford-based Warmerdam Packing, now known now as Excelsior Farming. The UFW won an election to represent workers there in 1994, but there is no contract, and there were no negotiations between May 2001 and July 2002. Growers say that the lack of or slow negotiations reflect UFW failures, and point to the makewhole remedy, which allows the ALRB to order employers to pay workers lost wages and benefits if they refuse to bargain in good faith, to argue that binding arbitration is not needed.

The ALRB has ordered makewhole payments 58 times since 1975, ordering that a total $34 million be paid to workers. However, only $4.5 million was paid to workers- some farmers went bankrupt, and in many cases workers owed makewhole payments could not be found.

ALRB Chairwoman Genevieve Shiroma wrote: "Often these cases take years to become final, and a remedy designed to act as a goad to bargaining often produces years of litigation." However, the ALRB in 2002 established by regulation a relief fund into which money owed to farm workers who cannot be found will be deposited. When other employers cannot pay what they owe to farm workers, funds will be withdrawn from the relief fund to pay them.

Members. The UFW claimed 27,000 members and 50 contracts in May 2002. Between 1995 and 1999, the UFW claimed 26,000 members on the LM-2 reports it is required to file with the U.S. Department of Labor; in 2000 the UFW raised its membership to 27,000 on the DOL report.

However, at the end of 2000, the UFW had only 5,945 members employed under UFW contracts, according to a revised report submitted by the UFW to DOL; DOL regulations request end-of-year membership data. The UFW says that the 26,000 to 27,000 figure reflects the total number of members employed sometime during the year under UFW contracts in California, Florida, and Washington.

The UFW reported $1.8 million in member dues in 2000, which would indicate that UFW members earned $90 million, since dues are two percent of earnings. The UFW won 16 elections in California between 1994 and 2000, earning the right to represent 4,094 workers. However, in several cases, the UFW has been unable to negotiate contracts.

Rob Roy, general counsel for the Ventura County Agricultural Association, reported that a 1998 survey of growers found 32 contracts covering about 7,000 workers in California, and that the number would be about 8,000 in 2002, including UFW members in other states.

Under current DOL regulations, unions with annual revenue of at least $200,000 must file LM-2 reports each year. There are 5,515 such unions, and 83 have not filed the most recent report, while an additional 2,447 filed late- a bill in Congress would penalize unions for not filing financial information when due.

Pensions. The UFW's Juan de la Cruz Farm Workers Pension Fund continues to distribute pension checks to retired farm workers who did not realize that they were entitled to pension benefits. A 67-year old worker employed by Cal Coastal between 1976 to 1985 received a lump sum of $6,430, plus $261 a month; a 76-year old employed by Vintners International between 1977 and 1985 received $14,673 and $105 a month.

Many farm workers who once retired in Mexico are retiring in the US to be near children and grandchildren. The UFW's National Farm Workers Service Center, a housing developer, reports it has overseen construction of 600 single-family homes and more than 2,000 rental units in California, Arizona and Texas. It opened the 58-unit Paulo Agbayani retirement village in Delano in 1974 for retired Filipino grape pickers, and opened another 80-unit retirement complex in Delano after the Agbayani complex closed.

Most retirement complexes, which are often constructed with government support, are not restricted exclusively to retired farm workers. The 88-unit Desert Gardens Apartments in Indio, for example, reserves half of the units for retired farm workers, while the 75-unit senior housing project in Fresno that opened in 1988 reserves a third of the units for farm workers; it charges $420 a month in rent. The Indio project, built and operated by the Coachella Valley Housing Coalition, received $5.5 million of the total $6.5 million cost from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's farm labor housing program.

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