One year ago, on September 18, 2018, workers at Gerawan Farming finally had their votes counted, which resulted in the decertification of the United Farm Workers union. This was five years after the votes were originally cast, and after countless protests from farm workers like me. As we celebrate our victory from one year ago, it’s important to look back on the events that happened and remember the difficulties that led us here.
Way back in 1992, workers at Gerawan Farming requested to be represented by the United Farm Workers (UFW) union. But after only one bargaining session, the union abandoned contract negotiations and failed to return for future talks. The union disappeared and wouldn’t be heard from for over 22 years.
I along with my co-workers, were shocked in October 2012 when the UFW showed up out of nowhere and demanded that we pay them three percent of our wages weekly, or that they would recommend we be fired.
They wanted to literally force a contract on us without even letting us vote on it. That didn’t seem logical to us, nor normal, since we never had an election and never voted for them to represent us. And losing three percent of every paycheck would have made it difficult to put food on the table for my children.
After speaking with a lawyer, we learned what needed to be done to decertify the UFW, and started collecting signatures from our co-workers. Almost every colleague I spoke to was in agreement that the UFW had to go.
Months later, along with signatures from 2,600 Gerawan employees, we asked the labor board to hold a decertification election, which was finally held on November 5, 2013.
While we were grateful to cast our votes against the UFW, the Agriculture Labor Relations Board (ALRB) held off counting the ballots. For nearly 5 years our ballots were impounded inside the ALRB’s Visalia office.
At first, the ALRB voted against Gerawan Farming and the majority of us workers, but then a Fresno appeals court ruled in May 2018 that many of the labor board’s findings against Gerawan were unfounded and ordered the votes to be counted. It wasn’t until the CA Supreme Court declined to hear the case that the ALRB was forced to allow ourvotes to be counted.
While waiting for the case to work through the legal system, the tactics of the UFW and ALRB got more desperate and more despicable.
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We took to the streets by the thousands to protest the ALRB’s attempts to force us into a non-negotiated UFW contract. Then the UFW would bring in children, the elderly and disabled people - none of whom work at Gerawan - to hold counter-protests.
The union also tried to get Walmart to boycott our products and not buy our brand of fruit. Which they knew would damage our jobs because, without buyers, we won’t have work.
As one of the leaders of the fight to leave the UFW, UFW representatives often treated me horribly. In one instance, I tried to speak with former Governor Jerry Brown and a top UFW leader physically blocked my way. Another time, a UFW leader grabbed me by the wrist and twisted my arm.
The UFW also misled Gerawan workers who went to peacefully protest a public ALRB meeting by lying and saying they weren’t allowed in the meeting. They even asked then Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton if she could intervene on their behalf in exchange for their endorsement.
Many of my coworkers came to America for a better life, because we admire the ideals of this country and the rights established in the Constitution. This includes the right to protest against injustices, especially when organizations like the UFW and ALRB try to trample on our civil rights. Despite all their efforts, we did not give up.
When the day finally came to have our votes counted, my coworkers and I flooded the State Building in Fresno to watch as our ballots were counted.
The results were overwhelming: 1,098 workers voted against United Farm Workers’ representation, while 197 voted in support.
In total, the ALRB, their attorneys and administrative law judge, spent nearly $20 million of tax dollars to suppress the votes of 2,500 farm workers who did not want to pay 3% of their income to a labor union they never chose to represent them.
The lesson of Gerawan Farming is that we held our ground and stood up for what we believed, and we won. Against all odds, and against organizations like the ALRB and UFW that are meant to represent farm workers, our voices were finally heard.