Valley Voices

The ALRB and UFW: Partners in Crime

Arturo Rodriguez, president of United Farm Workers, speaks in a press conference on June 29 at the state Capitol.
Arturo Rodriguez, president of United Farm Workers, speaks in a press conference on June 29 at the state Capitol. Vida En El Valle file

When you have a union and a labor board both being sued by former employees for unjust treatment, how can either be expected to deliver their promises of justice to California’s field workers?

In case you missed it, the United Farm Workers (UFW) has to cough up over $800,000 in back pay to dozens of its organizers, thanks to a ruling this month from a Monterey Superior Court.

That’s right, the union allegedly formed by Cesar Chavez to secure just pay for farmworkers is guilty of underpaying its own workers.

“It’s shameful that a union that says it protects the human rights of farmworkers has been violating the rights of its own employees,” said one of the former organizers, Francisco Cerritos. “It’s a product of the new management of the UFW. They no longer represent the workers.”

That’s for sure. And it’s just one more example of hypocrisy in California’s farm labor merry-go-round.

Take recent revelations from a whistleblower inside the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB): Pauline Alvarez, a former Board field examiner with decades of experience in the agency, has filed a retaliation lawsuit against her former employers.

Alvarez alleges that ALRB lawyers instructed her and other agents to engage in witness tampering and manufacturing of evidence to benefit the UFW in the union’s labor dispute with Gerawan Farming, Inc.

Worse, Alvarez alleges in her suit that she was punished for balking at engaging in the illegal and unethical activity.

Gerawan is one of the largest fruit producing companies in the country. It’s 5,000-plus farm workers are targets of the UFW and its ALRB enforcers because the union has been in a death spiral for decades. With hardly any new organizing, Chavez’s legacy has evaporated to a 7,000 (self-reported) members today from a height of over 60,000 in the 1970s.

The ALRB can’t let that decline continue: without the UFW harassing farm owners and draining farm workers of their hard-earned pay, what would the board do? Nothing, certainly nothing to justify its enormous budget.

No wonder the board has spent up to 10 million taxpayer dollars to help the UFW capture Gerawan’s work force, which would, in one fell swoop, practically double the union’s membership.

Many growers in the Valley have looked upon the persecution of the Gerawan workers with disgust, but have been reluctant to publicly say how they feel. Sacramento, after all, is an enormous and ravenous crocodile, and growers hope that once it eats Gerawan, it will be sated and sleepy and let them alone.

Fat chance. The best they can hope for is that they are the last to be eaten because make no mistake, a UFW flush with new cash and members and an emboldened ALRB will not stop at Gerawan. Their project is nothing less than a revival of this once great but now moribund union.

Farm owners sow the fields, and the workers harvest them, together literally producing the fruit that America eats. And what does the union contribute to this equation? Nothing, but they want their cut of the action like some back-room mafia don claiming it’s the price of doing business.

Pauline Alvarez’s story we know, thanks to her bravery. But does anyone think she’s the only one with such a tale to tell? How many board employees were told to lie, cheat and steel on behalf of the union since Brown created the Board in 1975?

Fresno Assemblyman Jim Patterson recently called on the FBI to investigate Gov. Jerry Brown’s corrupt institution. This would be a worthwhile use of the FBI’s resources; after all, investigating and prosecuting public corruption is one of its core missions.

Tal Cloud is founder of Common Sense Information and a small businessman in Fresno. He be reached at Matt Patterson is executive director of the Center for Worker Freedom.