Political Notebook

Leaked Clinton emails include pledge to help UFW in fight with Gerawan Farming

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton pledged to support the United Farm Workers in its dispute with Gerawan Farming of Fresno County.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton pledged to support the United Farm Workers in its dispute with Gerawan Farming of Fresno County. AP

Hillary Clinton agreed to help United Farm Workers in its conflict with Fresno-based Gerawan Farming, according to internal campaign emails exposed this week by WikiLeaks.

The Clinton campaign, however, is questioning the veracity of all the WikiLeaks emails, and it held a conference call Friday to highlight potential Russian involvement in hacking the campaign’s emails.

A Feb. 22 email explains the pledge that Clinton, now the Democratic presidential nominee, made as part of a deal for UFW’s political endorsement against then-party rival Bernie Sanders. The email stated she earned their endorsement by the end of the meeting, but UFW spokesman Marc Grossman said that’s not true. He said the endorsement was announced March 3.

The email was from Lorella Praeli, Clinton’s Latino outreach director, to traveling press secretary Nick Merrill.

In a 7 p.m. email on Feb. 21, Merrill said Clinton had just met with farmworkers for an hour in Palo Alto and that it was a positive experience.

Praeli expanded the next day with highlights from the meeting, at the end of which Clinton earned UFW’s endorsement.

“She was asked to help in the dispute between the UFW and CA-based Gerawan Farming,” Praeli wrote. “She said (she’d) do everything possible.

“After the meeting, she had a private conversation with Arturo and expressed caution b/c of campaign.” Arturo Rodriguez is president of UFW.

During the meeting, Clinton also discussed her support for comprehensive immigration reform, protection for undocumented immigrants through executive actions like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, overtime for farmworkers in California and access to health care for the undocumented.

A Clinton spokesman, however, said the campaign has not been verifying the contents of the WikiLeaks emails because of possible Russian involvement.

On a press conference call on Friday organized by the Clinton campaign, former CIA acting director Mike Morell said it was “absolutely clear to me that the intelligence community has concluded that Wikileaks and Guccifer 2.0 (another website hacker) are working with the Russians on this. Absolutely consistent with what I've seen from the Russians in the past, in terms of their working with these kinds of organizations.”

The conflict between Gerawan – one of Fresno County’s largest agriculture companies – and the union was prompted by a nearly forgotten UFW victory at Gerawan more than 20 years ago.

Although the union won the right to bargain for the workers, a contract never was negotiated and the union's status as the workers’ representative was in limbo. That is until 2012, when the union again requested to bargain on behalf of its members, opening the door to opposition from anti-union supporters and an ensuing decertification attempt.

The email exchange was first reported by the website PickJustice.com, which has opposed UFW on the Gerawan issue.

Grossman said Clinton was interviewed for an hour by about 100 farmworkers, some of whom may have worked for Gerawan.

“She was asked and expressed her sympathy and support,” he said. He later added: “They were farmworkers and Gerawan is a big issue,” though most of the questions were related to national immigration issues.

Grossman said the private conversation between Rodriguez and Clinton was more like an exchange of a few words as she left. He said it isn’t shocking that Clinton would counsel caution.

Dan Gerawan, co-owner of Gerawan Farming, said: “When the UFW trades political endorsements for ‘help’ to suppress worker ballots, the UFW calls it First Amendment political speech. When Gerawan workers petition the ALRB (California Agriculture Labor Relations Board) for the right to vote, the UFW calls it an unfair labor practice.”

Bee staff writers John Ellis and Robert Rodriguez contributed. Andrea Castillo: 559-441-6279, @andreamcastillo.