Gerawan workers win election to oust the United Farm Workers union

Gerawan workers react to winning the election to oust the United Farm Workers union.
Gerawan workers react to winning the election to oust the United Farm Workers union.

Five years ago, workers at Gerawan Farming voted out the United Farm Worker’s union by an overwhelming margin. But they only learned the result of their 2013 vote on Tuesday.

The final tally was 1,098 against the union and 197 in favor of the UFW.

About 50 people, including workers, politicians and lawyers gathered inside the auditorium of the Hugh Burns State Building on Tuesday to watch the ballots being counted. The Agricultural Labor Relations Board oversaw the election and the results.

Although the election took place in November 2013, the ballots had been impounded amid legal challenges by both the union and Gerawan.

For Gerawan worker Silvia Lopez, the outcome brought tears to her eyes. Lopez was instrumental in leading the fight against the union. “This is what Gerawan workers have wanted all along. This is what we have been asking for,” she said. “I don’t know why it took them so long.”

But the battle over who will represent about 5,000 workers is far from over.

A UFW official said the union will challenge the election results.

“The ALRB must consider whether a free and fair choice was prevented by multiple, serious and repeated violations of workers rights by the company...” said Armando Elenes, UFW’s third vice president.

Elenes said the ALRB has overturned elections before, despite the vote count, when there was ample evidence of company wrongdoing. Elenes said that what matters in this election is not the final vote, but everything leading up to the vote. He said the ALRB has found that Gerawan committed “serious and repeated violations of workers’ rights.”

Gerawan attorney Ron Barsamian said he was proud of how the workers held their ground and stood up for what they believed. “This shows that workers do matters,” Barsamian said. “They were faced with an injustice and they did not give up.”

Barsamian acknowledged that while Tuesday’s victory was sweet, the issue over who will represent the workers is not over. Still to be resolved by the ALRB is whether the charges of unfair labor practices by Gerawan happened and did it affect the outcome of the election.

“This is not the end,” he said. “The truth is we are where we should have been a day or week after the election.”

Robert Rodriguez: 559-441-6327, @FresnoBeeBob