Fruit Farmer Locks Horns With Union

fruitAt one of the largest fruit farms in the United States, the workers voted on whether or not they would move on with being represented by the United Farm Workers locale at Gerawan Farming Inc. The farm had actually won the right to be represented by the union over two decades ago, but had never actually forged a labor contract with its workers, thus inspiring the fruit farmer to lock horns with the union. In the beginning of the dispute, the process had been started by Cesar Chavez, concerning 5,000 or more workers at this farm alone who were hired to harvest plums, peaches and nectarines. Although Chavez has since passed away, the movement he started continues on in the fight for equality for farm worker rights.

The dispute arose over the use or lack of it in this case, of unionized workers on the Gerawan farm in Central California. The United Farm Workers union says that it has been trying to get a union-negotiated agreement for its workers in order to protect their rights and responsibilities. They claim that the Gerawan farm has used intimidation tactics in the past to hire and keep workers, and has also broken labor laws with such high-handed measures.

The area the Gerawan farm is located is in the most productive area of the nation for food growing, in the heart of California. It is also known to be the region where unions have won 750 or more elections in order to represent workers of farm labor over the past several decades. However, to date, only 350 negotiated contracts have been fulfilled since they won the right to represent workers as a union. This being the case, experts agree that this still leaves 400 or more farms in California alone who could find themselves in similar situations as the Gerawan farm is in now. The fruit farmer at Gerawan farms locked his horns with the union as the union tried to implement a contract with the non-unionized workers at the farm.

Yet this problem is not only localized in the Golden State. Some areas in the Southern United States may have unionized recently, but they may not yet have unionized negotiated contracts for their union members. North Carolina is one such state where they have unionized but has no settled contract for its workers as of yet. Experts point out that this can be happening anywhere there is farm labor, such as California, North or South Carolina, or Michigan; there only needs to be a demand for farm workers. The reason they give is that the organization of farm laborers is very, very hard to do as there are such high numbers of workers at any one farm during the growing season.

At the Gerawan farm in California, the owner has said that his workers are the highest paid employees in the country. He also claims that a state labor board and the United Farm Workers union has resorted to using what he says are unconstitutional state laws. He says that this is in order to rob his workers of the choice to become a union or not, and be represented by them, and that they want to wrest control of his company from him. He has also said that the United Farm Workers union had turned its back on his workers for the past 20 years and now has appeared out of the woodwork, causing strife within the farms ranks of workers.

The United Farm Workers union claims that farm workers of today need to be represented by them due to increases of more instances to exposure to dangerous pesticides in the workplace, working in unhealthy conditions such as high heat, and that some employers do not pay appropriate wages. Although the union had begun to represent employees at the Gerawan farm back in 1992, and met one time to negotiate an agreement which fell through, the owner says that they have not heard from the union in regards to another negotiated contract until now. The United Farm Workers union has stated that since that time in 1992, they have come up against a solid anti-union wall of interference that is now hampering their efforts to improve the working conditions on that farm.

Back in 2002 the union turned to the seat of California State Law in Sacramento, and won the right to call for mediation for the two sides if they could not reach an agreed-upon contract for its workers. The union had no way of knowing that this would result in the fact that the fruit farmer Gerawan would lock horns with them as tightly as they did this time around. The union is hoping that the farm will come to a voluntary agreement and not have to resort to having to invoke the mediation law from 2002. However, not all workers of farms are happy with the three percent in union dues that the union would be taking as payment for their involvement in the employees working conditions, thus causing the fruit farmers to lock horns with the union in a bid to keep their pickers and harvesters happy in their jobs and places of work.

By Korrey Laderoute

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