Farmworkers need more protection from powerful, large growers

Marc Grossman
Marc Grossman

Bill Whalen missed the most important point in writing about Gov. Jerry Brown and California farmworkers (“Jerry Brown says no to farmworkers union bosses,” Viewpoints, Oct. 4).

Brown and his two immediate predecessors signed some good laws protecting farmworkers – laws violated by growers such as Gerawan Farming, a giant Fresno-based tree fruit and grape grower.

Since last year, Sylvia Torres-Guillen – the Agricultural Labor Relations Board’s general counsel, a former federal attorney and the agency’s chief prosecutor – has issued five damning complaints or indictments against Gerawan following thorough investigations by state agents.

Since voting to join the United Farm Workers in 1990, workers’ repeated attempts to negotiate a union contract were thwarted by Gerawan. Workers tried bargaining again after Gov. Gray Davis signed a landmark 2002 law letting neutral state mediators hammer out contracts when growers refuse to sign them – and after Brown signed a 2011 measure with new remedies when employers retaliate for union activities.

A neutral mediator selected by Gerawan Farming issued a contract and the ALRB approved it. Gerawan is avoiding millions of dollars in pay increases and other benefits by refusing to implement the contract.

The latest indictment, from September, details how the UFW’s attempt to win a contract in October 2012 “sparked an intensive and ongoing campaign by Gerawan ... to promote decertification of the UFW and to prevent the UFW from ever representing its employees.”

New allegations say that Gerawan and its supervisors engaged in anti-UFW and anti-ALRB protests to promote decertification and that the company coerced workers into participating in the protests. Gerawan closed its fields, directing workers on buses to pro-company demonstrations. Those who didn’t attend were singled out for intimidation.

Investigations by state agents also found “a large number of forged signatures” on petitions to get rid of the UFW, according to the ALRB regional director, who ruled that Gerawan’s extensive violations made it “impossible” to conduct “a free and uncoerced” election. The election was held anyway, but ballots were impounded and not counted, pending an administrative judge’s decision.

Gerawan bullies its workers and claims state investigators and the prosecutors are biased. Let’s hope the facts of this case lead to Gerawan workers winning the union contract – and improved pay and benefits – they deserve. Si se puede!

Marc Grossman, longtime speechwriter and press secretary to Cesar Chavez, is a spokesman for the United Farm Workers of America.