April 1994-One year after Cesar Chavez's death, United Farm Workers
President Arturo Rodriguez kicks off a major new field organizing
campaign. Since then, the UFW wins 18 straight secret ballot union
elections and signs 22 new-or first-time-contracts with growers.
August 1995-The 450 strawberry workers at VCNM Farms near Salinas
strike over low pay, dirty restrooms, sexual harassment and other
abuses. Then they vote 332-50 for the UFW in an election conducted
by the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB). In retaliation,
the grower plows under part of the crop and shuts down operations
after the '95 harvest.* It is the third time in recent years that
strawberry growers have shut down
and laid off workers after they voted for the union.
Mid-1996-The UFW begins organizing California's 20,000 strawberry
workers, focusing on the central coast region around Salinas and
Watsonville. Workers have not received a pay raise in more than
a decade. There are few, if any benefits, poor field sanitation,
pickers being forced to work without pay, sex discrimination and
harassment of women workers. Only then do growers begin to offer
modest pay hikes and some minimal benefits.
April 1997-Some 30,000 strawberry workers and supporters march
in Watsonville rallying support for the organizing drive. Many growers
begin offering modest pay hikes and minimal benefits while some
field conditions improve-all in direct response to the union organizing.
June 1997-Monsanto, the ag-chem giant, sells its California strawberry
subsidiary, Gargiulo Inc., to new investors who vow to remain neutral
while workers organize. The new firm-Coastal Berry Co.-remains the
largest direct employer of strawberry workers in the country.
July 1998-Roughly 1,000 berry pickers, including many employed
by Coastal Berry, receive $500,000 in settlement of a 1997 federal
class action lawsuit filed with help from the UFW. It charged Gargiulo
with making workers labor "off the clock" without pay.
Meanwhile, the UFW has been preparing for a summer election among
Coastal Berry workers.
July 1, 1998-To forestall the UFW, anti-union foremen and supervisors
at Coastal Berry stage a riot to halt the harvest in company fields
near Watsonville. A large anti-union mob attacks pro-UFW pickers,
injuring three workers and two peace officers. The only person arrested
during the melee, described by a law enforcement spokesman as the
leader of the attack, is Jose Guadalupe Fernandez.
July 1998-In the next few weeks, the same anti-UFW foremen and
supervisors go crew to crew forcing pickers to sign petitions for
a union election. Pickers who don't sign are threatened with being
fired or beaten up. The "union" pushing this election
is the just-formed Coastal Berry Farmworkers Committee. President
of the Committee is the same Jose Guadalupe Fernandez identified
by a law enforcement spokesman as leader of the July 1 violence.
Another committee leader, Neri Hernandez, was also an organizer
of the riot.
July 23, 1998-Over UFW objections, the ALRB conducts an election
at Coastal Berry. The UFW boycotts the election, calling it a "sham."
Coastal Berry Farmworkers Committee wins by 113 votes. ALRB Regional
Director Fred Capuyan says he is proceeding with the vote out of
fear of further violence. "The state of California has surrendered
to extortion and terrorism," declares the UFW's Arturo Rodriguez.
Nov. 5, 1998-Acting on company-filed objections, ALRB administrative
judge Thomas Sobel throws out the July 23 election because 162 Coastal
Berry workers in Ventura County who had the right to vote weren't
notified of the balloting. Since the election margin was only 113
votes, the 162 disenfranchised workers could have changed the outcome.
May 6, 1999-The five-member Agricultural Labor Relations Board
upholds the judge's ruling and invalidates the July 23 election,
paving the way for a new vote.
May 19, 1999-The UFW announces 20 strawberry growers or industry
groups have either been enjoined or agreed to court judgements under
which they must stop financing or supporting "worker committees"
trying to influence employees' decisions on unionization. Since
the UFW filed a lawsuit in 1997 (UFW vs. Dutra Farms), subpoenaed
bank records have revealed growers and grower organizations gave
these worker committees more than $56,000. That violated a state
law forbidding employers from bankrolling committees that interfere
with their workers' right to organize. Coastal Berry Farmworkers
Committee leaders, including Neri Hernandez and Jose Guadalupe Fernandez,
were activists with the earlier industry committees and organized
violence on July 1.
May 26-27, 1999-The ALRB conducts an election at Coastal Berry
locations in Monterey, Santa Cruz and Ventura counties. Since no
party receives a majority, a run-off is scheduled.
June 3-4, 1999-Challenged ballots mean no one receives a majority
in the run-off. The initial tally is 589 for the UFW and 688 for
the committee with 92-108 challenged ballots. The committee is expected
to win once the challenged ballots are resolved, although the election
would still need to be certified by the five-member ALRB.
June 11, 1999-The UFW files voluminous objections to the election
with the ALRB, backed up by declarations from workers and others.
Among the objections are foremen threatening workers with discing
under strawberries if they vote UFW and the company allowing committee
agents to campaign among workers in the fields during voting while
denying access to the UFW.
* Even the Pete Wilson-appointed Agricultural Labor Relations Board
issues a complaint against VCNM Farms for illegally plowing under
a portion of the fields. It is settled for $113,000 in March 1996.