Even though an overwhelming number of signatures were submitted requesting an election to decertify the United Farm Workers union, employees at one of Californias largest family-owned farms may never have a voice in deciding their future. Thats because a single California bureaucrat could block the election and deny them their right to vote with the stroke of a pen. Once that happens, the agency that hired him could impose a contract on the employees. If that happens, the UFW will require them to pay dues to the union or lose their jobs.
Gerawan Farming workers picketing for the right to vote in a UFW decertification election (Photo: Business Wire)
Gerawan Farming employees have submitted 2,638 signatures to the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board asking for an up or down election on whether they want the UFW to represent them. It is called a decertification election. The UFW two decades ago lost interest in representing the workers and walked away. Struggling with plunging membership and shaky finances, the UFW returned and is now attempting a naked power grab. The UFW is betting that a regional director at this Board will block the election and impose the UFW on these workers. The workers want a voice in that decision. The clock is ticking with Fridays scheduled vote. The UFW has launched an all-out, 11th-hour effort to stop the election.
As Gerawan farm worker Sylvia Lopez told Fresno television station KMPH: “We feed California and we feed other countries. The least we can have is an election.”
Said Gerawan Farming co-owner Dan Gerawan: This grassroots movement is all about letting our employees decide for themselves whats best for their families. We believe that these employees not our company, not the UFW, and not the ALRB should make that decision. As a responsible company we will abide by their decision. But how will we ever know their true decision if they are denied a vote? We urge California officials not to block this election so our employees may express themselves.
HelpFarmWorkers.com, and matching Facebook and Twitter accounts have been launched to support the right of Gerawan employees to exercise their voting rights, and make sure the California ALRB knows their decision matters to people who believe in giving workers the right to choose.
More than two decades ago, the UFW abandoned the Gerawan employees they represented, never negotiating a contract. Indeed, the last vote on union representation was in 1990, long before some of Gerawan employees worked on the farm, or were even born. In the meantime, Gerawan employees without any union have earned more than $15 an hour during piecework, nearly double the industry average, while enjoying an industry high $10 an hour for all hourly paid general work. Eligible seasonal employees also receive vacation and retirement bonus pay. Other standard benefits are also offered to full-time employees. Gerawan also pays tuition for the education of workers and their children.
Only recently did the UFW resurface to show interest in Gerawan employees and their above-industry paychecks as a source of dues after the union lost thousands of members. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, from 2000 to 2012 the number of UFW members plunged from 27,000 to 4,443.