UFW improving farm worker lives through proactive union work
Attending the United Farm Workers’ 20th Constitutional Convention May 19-22 at the Rabobank Convention Center in Bakersfield, Calif. are nearly 400 farm worker delegates and alternates representing their co-workers at ranches under union contract in California, Oregon and Washington state. The convention highlights how farm workers today are living out the legacy of Cesar Chavez and the farm worker movement.
• Recent union contract negotiating gains featuring new or re-negotiated agreements, including:
—One of the nation’s largest wineries (Gallo of Sonoma)
—One of America’s biggest strawberry growers (Dole)
—One of California’s largest vegetable companies (D’Arrigo Bros.)
—Seventy-five percent of California’s fresh mushroom industry
—Washington state’s largest winery (Chateau Ste. Michelle)
—One of the largest dairies in the U.S. (Three Mile Canyon in eastern Oregon)
—A string of four agreements protecting more than 1,500 workers, mostly in tomatoes, in the San Joaquin Valley since 2012.
• Union contracts have brought farm workers important wage increases—from highs averaging $45,000 to $48,000 a year for mushroom pickers and pay of $23.84 an hour for the average fresh tomato picker to an average of $1 above what MIT calculates families need to decently live given the cost of living in local communities. Many UFW contracts bring complete family medical coverage and provide full dental and vision benefits. Union health and pension programs over the years paid about $500 million in benefits to farm workers under UFW contract—with most contracts providing for 100 percent employer-paid benefits that are affordable to employees because of very low deductibles.
• Summary of the last four years of UFW organizing:
—Four new UFW contracts, mostly in tomatoes, resulting from union organizing: Pacific Triple E, 450 workers, Stockton and Merced; Gargiulo Tomatoes, after 350 workers in Firebaugh walked out on strike and voted for the UFW; Amaral Ranches, after 300 Salinas Valley vegetable workers struck and voted for the UFW; San Joaquin Tomato Co., 350 workers in Madera.
—UFW-organized strikes during 2015: Stellar Distributing, 400 fig workers, and Specialty Crop, 200 fig workers, both in Madera (workers won modest pay hikes); O.P. Murphy Tomato Co., 150 workers in Hollister (pursuing negotiations); Cedar Point Nursery, 350 workers in Doris, Calif. near the Oregon border.
—A total of 240 Ventura County workers at Hiji Bros. celery company and Seaview Growers nursery voted for UFW in April 2016.
—Fighting to implement a state-ordered mediator’s contract for 5,000 tree fruit workers at Gerawan Farming Inc. while re-negotiating a second union contract.
• Recent UFW legislative, regulatory and legal victories.
—UFW-obtained laws strengthening farm workers’ bargaining rights include California’s landmark 2002 Mandatory Mediation Law letting neutral state mediators hammer out union contracts when growers won’t negotiate them plus a 2012 state law further protecting farm workers’ right to a union when growers fire or intimidate them during election campaigns.
—Many farm worker lives have been saved through the nation’s first state heat rules the UFW convinced then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to issue in 2005. More than 1 million California farm workers have been protected by those standards that serve as a model for other states. More effective, timely and consistent inspections of farms to enforce the heat standards resulted from settlement of lawsuits in May 2015 between the state of California, the UFW and farm workers.
—The union worked with the Obama administration to win stronger pesticide protections for America’s two million farm workers and their families through new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards announced on Oct. 20, 2015 by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez at a unionized company near Stockton. The federal rule strengthens requirements for training, notification, pesticide safety and hazard communication plus use of personal protective equipment and availability of routine washing and emergency decontamination. The rule also ended decades of discrimination against farm workers, who prior to the rules had far fewer pesticide protections than all other workers.
—A UFW drive began in November 2015 to get farm workers millions of dollars in back pay for unpaid rest periods and “nonproductive time.” UFW organizers fanned out across California to kick off a drive educating thousands of farm workers laboring on piece rate about more than $200 million in back pay they are owed because employers failed to follow the law. The UFW estimates many farm workers will receive back pay amounting to $8 or more per day or $48 or more per week.
—Attorneys for farm workers and the UFW are also making gains for farm workers outside of union contracts by filing major wage and hour litigation to recover pay when they are cheated, by filing gender discrimination claims and lawsuits, and by bringing other suits to improve farm worker lives. Examples include:
—Federal class-action wage-and-hour lawsuits covering tens of thousands of farm workers are underway against Delano Farms and Gerawan Farming Inc.
—A federal class action was filed for roughly 10,000 workers at Giumarra Vineyards Inc. who weren’t provided meal periods in compliance with California law, didn’t get paid for meal periods and had to buy their own tools.
—Another suit over wage theft involving about 10,000 grape workers at Sunview Vineyards was settled for $4.5 million.
—Partnering with lawyers to challenge the use of pesticides used by growers and filing lawsuits on behalf of children who were born with birth defects from their mothers’ exposure to pesticides while working in the fields.
— Seeking increased protections for farm workers through education and lawsuits to prevent and combat forced labor and human trafficking in agriculture.
• The union is battling to end in California the racist 78-year exclusion of farm workers from the national law granting virtually all other workers overtime pay after eight hours a day through AB 2757, “The Phase-in Overtime for Agricultural Workers Act of 2016,” by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez at the state Capitol in Sacramento.
• The UFW continues helping lead the national fight for immigration reform, including agricultural provisions the UFW negotiated with the growers in the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed on a bipartisan vote by the U.S. Senate in 2013. The UFW also worked directly with President Obama and the White House on provisions protecting hundreds of thousands of farm workers from deportation in his 2014 executive action on immigration and helped organize amicus briefs in the current U.S. Supreme Court case to be decided in June 2016.
For more on recent UFW achievements, also see: http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/soapbox/article36354471.html and http://www.ufw.org/_board.php?mode=view&b_code=about_suc&b_no=17560
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UFW Foundation & LUPE
Two sister organizations that along with the UFW are part of the farm worker movement serve farm workers and other poor people.
UFW Foundation through its service centers is on the frontline of narrowing the gap of information immigrants need to successfully navigate American society—whether they seek legal advice, need help during a drought or want to report abuses at work. UFW Foundation is the nonprofit organization with the largest number of staff accredited by the federal Board of Immigration Appeals in California; nationally it is second largest. UFW Foundation annually serves more than 60,000 immigrants through a holistic approach: it provides critical services and engages constituents in systemic change to break the cycle of poverty.
La Union Del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), also founded by Cesar Chavez, builds stronger and healthier communities where colonia residents in South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley use civic engagement to achieve change by fighting deportations, providing services and English classes, and organizing for streetlights and drainage.