As we approach the one-year anniversary of the United Farm Workers union being successfully voted out of Gerawan Farming, it is important to remember all the unscrupulous tactics the UFW used in an attempt to ensure the farm workers’ voices were not heard, and that their votes were not counted. It is critical to remember the injustices of the past so we can ensure they are never repeated.
This unfortunate situation began nearly three decades ago, in 1990, when Gerawan farm workers originally requested union representation. Contract negotiations began that year but were never completed because the UFW failed to return to finalize the process. It would be 22 years before the UFW came back to the table, unexpectedly.
When asked why the UFW had disappeared for years, UFW leadership refused “requests to explain their lengthy absence from the negotiating table.”
Worse yet, when the UFW returned, they tried to force a non-negotiated, government-written contract on the workers, which would have lowered the take-home pay of the farm workers and stripped them of their constitutionally protected right to continue protesting the UFW and California Agricultural Labor Relations Board.
In 2013, Gerawan farm workers were able to get a new election to decertify the UFW. Yet, the ballots weren’t counted because of legal challenges by the UFW.
Unfortunately, the votes wouldn’t be counted for half a decade.
The ballots were impounded by the ALRB and a court battle that cost the taxpayers millions of dollars ensued, due to the UFW’s unwillingness to accept the results of the fair vote.
In the meantime, over those five years, the UFW, often with the help of the ALRB, conducted a coordinated campaign in an attempt to ensure those votes would never be counted.
The tactics the UFW was willing to use in order to silence farm workers weren’t just wasting tax dollars on endless appeals, resulting in the case making it to the California Supreme Court. They went much further, and more disgraceful than that.
A whistleblower and former examiner with the ALRB said that she had been asked to “engage in witness tampering and manufacturing of evidence to benefit the UFW in the union’s labor dispute with Gerawan Farming.”
In September 2015, the UFW took their tactics to the extreme. During an ALRB meeting, a UFW staff member misled hotel security to exclude Gerawan farm workers from attending the meeting. This was at a public meeting of a board created with the express purpose of protecting farm workers, yet the UFW again was attempting to silence their voices. It wasn’t until an ALRB staffer stepped up to tell security to let them in that the farm workers were able to get into the meeting.
The efforts by the UFW were so egregious that the ALRB ordered the UFW to sign a notice admitting that they had violated the law and promising to “not interfere with employees exercising their rights.”
The UFW even asked then Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton to get involved against Gerawan Farming, in exchange for UFW’s endorsement, which she later received.
These tactics may explain why UFW now only represents “less than 1 percent of the agricultural labor force.”
Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. Despite all the unethical and occasionally illegal activities by the UFW and ALRB, a ruling by California's 5th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the workers of Gerawan Farming to finally have their votes counted.
Once the vote totals were released, it wasn’t even close. Five times as many workers voted to decertify the UFW than said they should stay.
Even though eventually the farm workers won, we cannot forget the depths of immoral activities the UFW were willing to commit to keep their power and also collect 3% of the workers' paychecks. By remembering these injustices, we can work together to ensure that this never happens again.
Fred Vanderhoof is chairman of the Fresno County Republican Party