October 1995, Volume 1, Number 4
Striking strawberry harvesters at VCNM Farms, which sells "Well
Pict" berries, voted 332-50 on August 17, 1995 to have the UFW
represent them. On August 24, VCNM challenged the election, charging
that UFW organizers violated Agricultural Labor Relations Board rules
by not filing a notice with the board before entering the VCNM ranch
August 15, and by "occupying" its property.
The UFW believes that VCNM is trying to delay bargaining for a
first contract. According to the UFW, VCNM tried to end the strike on
August 16, just before the vote, by firing five managers and raising
the pickers' pay from $4 an hour plus 60 cents per box picked to $
4.50 and 70 cents. Workers had complained of low pay and poor
According to the UFW, since resuming field organizing in 1994, the
UFW has won 12 consecutive elections and negotiated or renegotiated
two dozen contracts--including seven first-time ones--covering nearly
4,000 workers. Dolores Huerta on September 28, 1995 testified at a
Washington, DC hearing on immigration reform that the UFW represents
24,000 farm workers.
The UFW filed more than 10 petitions with the ALRB to gain access
to farms in the Salinas area. The UFW held a march and rally on
September 17 in Salinas that drew an estimated 5,000 workers.
The UFW negotiated an agreement with Monterey Mushrooms in
Watsonville, California's largest mushroom grower, and employer of
450 workers. Under the five-year contract, workers will receive 3 to
4 percent annual wage increases, and their first-ever pension
benefits. The contract provides basic medical, dental, and vision
benefits, and doubles vacation days and holidays.
According to the UFW, the union represents about 1000 mushroom
workers, including 70 percent those in the Salinas area. The UFW has
contracts with Monterey Mushrooms in Morgan Hill, and at Pacific,
Sunrise, and Ariel mushroon operations. The average unionized
mushroon worker earns about $20,000 annually, excluding benefits.
The UFW is expected to soon begin re-negotiations with mushroom
producer Campell's. The UFW might soon attempt to organize mushroom
workers in Pennsylvania.
Mushroom pickers at a San Luis Valley, Colorado farm are also
trying to form a union. The workers average 40 hours per week year
round, and would like to be considered nonagricultural employees who
are covered by nonfarm wage, overtime and unemployment labor laws. If
they are classified as nonfarm workers, other year-round workers may
seek to be reclassified.
The mushroom farm has about 225 workers who are mostly Guatemalan
and Mexican immigrants earning about $7.71 per hour--the farm is the
largest private employer in Alamosa County. Pickers say supervisors
issued arbitrary warnings, gave preferential treatment to some
workers, and penalized those who complained. In September 1995, some
mushroom workers won $26,000 in overtime pay.
The Sikh owners of the farm--who also have oil and gas, real
estate and construction ventures--have threatened to close if the
workers form a union.
There were 789 million pounds of mushrooms produced in 1994-95 by
371 US producers. Growers received an average $0.96 per pound.
The UFW is negotiating with Warmerdam Packing in Hanford,
California, a major producer of tree fruit and apples. The UFW won an
election to represent Warmerdam workers in 1994, and has charged that
Warmerdam committed ULPs by hiring non-union workers through farm
labor contractors. On August 5, union members picketed the packing
house to protest the lace of contract. The ALRB is investigating the
company to see if it threaten to fire workers participating in the
union and changed hiring practices to avoid hiring union workers.
In Oxnard, the UFW protested Dole Food Company's plan to lay off
200 farm workers employed by a Dole subsidiary Oceanview Produce. The
workers voted to have the UFW represent them, and Dole has said that
it may close its Oceanview subsidiary and have its Bud subsidiary
harvest vegetables in the Oxnard area because Bud workers can do the
harvesting cheaper. Bud workers are represented by Teamsters Local
In endorsing SEIU president John Sweeny to head the AFL-CIO, UFW
president Arturo Rodriquez was described as head of the 20,000-member
United Farm Workers. Sweeny asserted that he was "not afraid to fight
for full collective bargaining rights for agricultural workers, for
janitors, for people at the bottom end of the spectrum."
According to Rodriguez, the UFW has added about 2,500 new members
over the past 16 months as a result of organizing efforts in
California, Washington, and Florida.
Deborah Frazier, "Farm workers in Alamosa try to form union,"
Rocky Mountain News, October 7, 1995; "UFW, Mushroom Grower Negotiate
Contract," Daily Labor Report, October 2, 1995. Daily Labor Report,
September 7, 1995. Robert Rodriquez, "Face to Face; UFW pickets
Warmerdam Packing over contract," Fresno Bee, August 5, 1995.