Gerawan Farming is suing the United Farm Workers union over comments it made about the farmer's alleged reluctance to bargain with the union.
The defamation lawsuit that was filed in Fresno County Superior Court on Feb. 15 claims the company's reputation and relationship with its workers have been harmed by negative comments from a union spokeswoman.
Gerawan is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
"Gerawan Farming operates in an industry where sensitivity to farmworkers, their working conditions and their right to organize is of great concern to workers, consumers, community leaders, elected officials, vendors and other businesses," the lawsuit states. "It is also of great concern to Gerawan ... "
The union and the farming company -- one of the Valley's leading tree fruit and grape growers -- have been at odds since the union recently resurrected contract negotiations that had been dormant for 20 years.
In describing the delay, union spokeswoman Maria Machuca was quoted in a Jan. 18th article in The Business Journal, saying that the Gerawan company "continued fighting for 20 years" rather than try and negotiate.
Gerawan company officials bristled at the comments. In a Jan. 20 letter to Armando Elenes, national vice president of the UFW, Gerawan's attorney, Ron Barsamian, called the quote completely false and urged the union to demand a correction or retract the statement.
Although Elenes did request a correction, saying the spokeswoman was misquoted, The Business Journal -- a weekly Fresno-based business newspaper -- stuck by the story.
"We stand by the reporting of our story, and believe we accurately quoted the United Farm Workers spokesperson," said Gabriel Dillard, managing editor. "Whether the information in the quote is true is at issue."
Machuca said the union does not believe the lawsuit has merit.
"We believe Gerawan is upset at the prospect of having their employees working under a union contract and has chosen to spend its resources filing this lawsuit," she said. "When Gerawan employees and the UFW approached Gerawan last fall about resolving a dispute over a first union contract, it was our hope that we could do so through a mutually agreeable contract through the course of productive collective bargaining sessions. We continue to hope that we can resolve a first contract in this manner."
Barsamian said that despite the lawsuit, contract negotiations continue. Both sides have met several times over the past few weeks.
"We have to move onward and upward," Barsamian said "And we hope to have something in place by harvest."
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