The politics of the Hispanic farm employees in California is interesting. Many think there is a gulf between farmers and their Hispanic employees. Not so, said Arnold Torres, a journalist, consultant, and partner in the Sacramento-based public policy consulting firm Torres and Torres.
“I do not think there is a gulf between the farm employee in the valley and the owners of the farms. But I do think there is a big gulf between the Hispanic worker employees and the state legislature,” Torres said.
“You would think in the mind of the Latino Legislator, they believe that they are everything that these foreign workers need. That’s the fallacy because the Latino urban member of the legislature deals with the farm worker as a stereotype,” Torres explained. “They don’t sit there and have a conversation with them, and when they do, if any farm worker does not satisfy the image of a Cesar Chavez farm worker profile, then that worker is a sellout. That worker is on the grower side.”
This is all part of the fallacy of Latino solidarity.
“That’s where I have to agree with the attitude and the disposition of certain Latinos in the valley. However, the problem is what other Latinos in the Central Valley are doing to consistently challenge that disconnect,” Torres said.
“Every Latino is not monolithic. We don’t all think alike. So how does the grower and the farm worker community properly, effectively portray themselves to a population of elected representatives who happen to be Latino or happen to be white liberal or African American liberal or Asian liberal and say: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we are not supporters of the union argument just because we’re farm workers?’ ” Torres said.
Greene Wins Fresno County Farm Bureau Award for Series on Farm Workers’ Rights
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor
The Fresno County Farm Bureau (FCFB) recognized Laurie Greene, founding editor of CaliforniaAgToday.com, with a First Place Journalism Award in the Farm Trade Print category on May 3. Her nine-part series published on our Google News-recognized CaliforniaAgToday.com website entitled, “Who Safeguards California Farm Workers’ Rights?” focused on recent, predominantly legal developments that illustrate the increasingly complex quagmire that masquerades as protecting farm employees’ rights in the state.
According to the FCFB, “The annual awards recognize excellence in reporting on agricultural issues from journalists throughout the region. The criteria for the awards were: awareness of agriculture’s importance in the Valley; use of visuals to tell the story, where applicable; thorough and objective coverage of the issues, given time and space limitations; and portraying the ‘human side’ of the industry, making the issues relevant to consumers and/or producers.”
Laurie’s careful coverage of a complicated story was unrelenting in its meticulous research and thorough in cultivating numerous sources to tell the complete legal story of Gerawan’s farm employees. Laurie has been cited as a journalist with a sharp legal mind and is a strong asset to the company.
“When I moved to the Central Valley,” Greene said, “I was shocked to discover that Cesar Chavez’s legacy was tarnished. His UFW had evolved to mandate that farm employees submit to mediated union representation and payment of dues—all this by a union elected a quarter century earlier that subsequently abandoned the workers for two decades.”
Greene explained, “Current farm employees have had to fight to have their voices heard, to gain access to pertinent court hearings, to work unimpeded for the employer of their choosing, to face employment termination if they refuse to pay union dues, to exercise their right to vote to decertify the union in a sanctioned election and to have their votes publicly counted. I felt compelled to relay the facts in this important story.”
Greene’s work in the series was shared across the California Ag Today’s social media platforms and broadcasted across the California Ag Today Radio Network of 22 radio stations. She is also the owner of Cultivated Words, which provides professional editing services and college application essay coaching.
Other award winners were:
Audio: Dominic McAndrew, News Talk 580AM, KMJ, “Signing the application for state funding of Temperance Flat Dam,” August 14, 2017.
Video: Alex Backus, CBS47, “Fear in the Fields,” May 19, 2017.
General Print: Maria G. Ortiz-Briones, Vida en el Vale, “Farmers, immigration rights advocates push back after ICE checks in the Central Valley,” February 12, 2018.
Greene focused on the ongoing pressure the United Farm Workers (UFW) and the California Agriculture Labor Relations Board (ALRB) has placed on Gerawan farm workers in an attempt to force them to accept mandatory fee-based union representation by the UFW. Gerawan employees voted in favor of UFW representation in 1990, an election the ALRB certified in 1992. UFW never reached a contract to represent Gerawan employees in wage negotiations with their employer and never collected union dues. The UFW effectively abandoned the farm workers for 20 years.
The California Legislature amended the Agricultural Labor Relations Act in 2012 to impose a mandatory mediation and conciliation process for union contracts. The UFW offered Gerawan employees a new contract proposal via this forced legal process.
On Oct. 25, 2013, Gerawan employee Silvia Lopez filed a petition to decertify the UFW as the bargaining representative for the company’s workers. Gerawan voted in an historic, ALRB-sanctioned election on November 4 or 5, 2013; however, the ALRB impounded the ballots, reportedly without having counted them.
The twists and turns of who actually safeguards California farm employees’ rights have been strikingly dramatic, undemocratic, political, and arguably unconstitutional. And yet, the conflict remains legally unresolved.
In his 1984 Address to the Commonwealth Club of California, American labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez explained that he cofounded the National Farm Workers Association, the forerunner to UFW, in 1962 “to overthrow a farm labor system in this nation which treats farm workers as if they were not important human beings.” Yet recent developments among United Farm Workers (UFW), Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB), Gerawan Farming, Inc. and farm workers illustrate the continuing, increasingly complex quagmire that masquerades as protecting California farm workers’ rights.
ALRB Chairman William B. Gould IV, who resigned on January 13, wrote to Governor Jerry Brown that the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA) is irrelevant to farm workers because they are unaware of the law’s provisions, procedures and rights.
“The instances of unfair labor practice charges and invocation of the Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation Act (MMC) are few and far between,” Gould explained. “There is no union organizing which might make workers aware of the [ALRA].” He added that only one union representation petition was filed during his 3-year tenure.
Nevertheless, under Gould’s watch, the ALRB doubled both its staff and taxpayer-funded budget to harass Gerawan and its farm workers.
Remarkably, on March 26, Monterey County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wills ruled that the UFW underpaid their own employees. Consequently, UFW must pay a $1.2 million award that includes funds to plaintiff former UFW employee Francisco Cerritos and other internal organizers, sums to other members of the class action suit for pay stub violations and penalties for California Labor Code Violations.
“It’s unfortunate that a union asks for laws to be respected,” plaintiff Cerritos said, “but [the union does] not respect them.” The UFW, Cesar Chavez’s legacy, has shortchanged its own workers.
Furthermore, ALRB whistleblower Pauline Alvarez, a 30-year former ALRB field examiner, filed a retaliation lawsuit in 2015 against the ALRB, which is still pending in Sacramento Superior Court. According to a February 27 Gerawan press release, Alvarez alleges that she recommended to former ALRB chief counsel Sylvia Torres-Guillén the dismissal of cases in which the UFW failed to cooperate and provide witnesses and evidence to support its allegations. Alvarez claims Torres-Guillén directed her and other field examiners “to dredge up witnesses that would assist the UFW’s position.”
Alvarez also asserts that she protested the settlement of farm worker cases against the UFW that contained sufficient evidence to establish UFW violations of the law. Stunningly, she affirms that the ALRB refused “to notify workers of their rights to file charges against the UFW when the UFW violated the workers’ rights,” and the “ghostwriting” of the UFW legal brief by the ALRB staff.
Perhaps most astonishing, the ALRB withheld this whistleblower’s report from ongoing legal proceedings with Gerawan and Gerawan farm workers for seven months.
Most recently, ALRB Administrative Law Judge William L. Schmidt issued a decision on April 14 in favor of the UFW, finding Gerawan violated labor law by negotiating a collective-bargaining agreement with UFW “in bad faith”— commonly called “surface bargaining”— in the eight-month period from January 2013 through August 2013.
To explain this decision in context, the UFW was voted in by Gerawan farmworkers in a runoff election in 1990 and certified by the ALRB in 1992. Significantly, UFW never reached a contract to represent Gerawan farm workers in wage negotiations with their employer. Neither did the UFW collect dues from or provide services for the farm workers, reportedly among the highest-paid in the industry.
The UFW effectively abandoned the Gerawan farm workers – that is, until 2012, after the California State Legislature amended the Agricultural Labor Relations Act to allow and accelerate an imposed mandatory mediation and conciliation process for union contracts. Thus, UFW offered a new contract proposal, via imposed mandatory mediation, to Gerawan farm workers.
Meanwhile, during the same time period in which Gerawan supposedly negotiated with UFW in bad faith, Gerawan farm workers were actively collecting signatures to petition the decertification of the UFW as their bargaining representative. The ballots cast in the ALRB-certified election in November 2013 have never been counted, to this day. Rather, they were sealed and stored in an undisclosed location, allegedly in ALRB custody.
Who is safeguarding California farm workers’ rights?
Award-Winning Documentary Film, “The Fight for Water”, Available on DVD on September 16
The award-winning documentary film, The Fight for Water: A Farm Worker Struggle, which puts a human face to the California’s on-going water crisis, is coming to DVD on September 16 through Amazon and other sites. It is currently available for pre-order on the film’s official website: www.thefightforwaterfilm.com.
The independently produced film, which documents the struggle farmers and their farm workers had to face in order to fight for their water, has won accolades and international recognition. It has screened at over 10 film festivals worldwide, including environmental film festivals in Malaysia and the Czech Republic.
The film received Best Documentary honors at the 2013 International Monarch Film Festival and at the 2013 Viña de Oro International Film Festival and runner-up honors for Best Documentary in Cinematography and Best Political Documentary Film, and a nomination in Excellence in Filmmaking at the 2013 Action on Film International Film Festival.
The timely documentary offers an historical perspective on today’s water situation. It follows a group of farmers and their farm workers who describe how federal water measures in 2009 contributed to people being displaced from their jobs and fields going dry while refuges that protected a threatened fish species received all of the water designated for them. While the measures were intended for a good cause, they undeniably created unintended consequences. The government had to declare the affected area a disaster and, in addition to that, it had to provide food assistance for over two-hundred thousand people, many of whom were migrant workers who did not have other means to turn to. This led the community to rise up in a march across the California Central Valley.
“The film is a lesson to be learned. Farmworkers don’t want handouts; they want to work”, stated Juan Carlos Oseguera, 40, a San Francisco State Cinema alumnus who is the film’s director, producer, editor and writer. He was raised by parents who were migrant farm workers. This is his first feature-length film. “It’s something I thought I would never get to see in the United States. People in food lines and going hungry because of it.”
Oseguera happened to have family in the affected area and set out to film this event and document this struggle; examining, along the way, class and social politics behind water access and distribution in California.
“People should see this film,” stated Lois Henry, newspaper columnist for The Bakersfield Californian. “It’s important that we understand that perspective of what the ‘Water Wars’ mean on a really, really human scale.”
“The film documents something that should have never have never happened in America. California Farmers, providing so much nutritious food for the nation and the world are being strangled to near collapse due to severe and unnecessary environmental restrictions, which have never helped the species,” said Patrick Cavanaugh, long-time print journalist and broadcaster in California.
“All the collateral damage to towns to farmworkers, to family farms and businesses has been for nothing,” said Cavanaugh. “The extreme environmentalists that support the environmental restrictions must find a different approach to protecting the species than to cut water off from California farmers.”
Hollywood actor Paul Rodriguez, who helped organize the march in the style of Cesar Chavez, is also featured in the film for his activism. Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger also makes an appearance on the film.”We hope people find our film on DVD and tell others about it,” added the director. “That is how you can help us support our film.” The film was independently produced without major distribution.
The award-winning documentary film, The Fight for Water: A Farm Worker Struggle, which highlights the 2009 Water Crisis as a cautionary tale on the current California drought, is making its way to Video on Demand May 16. It will also be available for viewing through the film’s website at www.thefightforwaterfilm.com.
The film follows two farmers (Joe Del Bosque and George Delgado) and their farmworkers around their drought-stricken lands in order to understand how an environmental decision that took away their water impacted their lands, their way of life and their community.
Recently, Del Bosque was thrown into the national spotlight when President Barack Obama visited his drought-stricken farm to address the current water crisis in California.
Hollywood actor Paul Rodriguez is also featured in the film for his activism. He helped organize a four-day march, in the style of Cesar Chavez, to draw attention to the dire situation that saw over 200,000 people in food lines. Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger also makes an appearance on the film.
The film was produced by Juan Carlos Oseguera, 40, a San Francisco State University alumnus who has been a published film critic and an accomplished producer and editor of several award-winning short films.
This is his first feature-length film.
The historical documentary, has screened at over 10 film festivals; winning accolades and worldwide recognition. It received the BestDocumentary award at the 2013International Monarch Film Festival and at the 2013 Viña de Oro Fresno International Film Festival.
The film also received runner-up honors for Best Documentary in Cinematographyandfor Best Political Documentary Filmat the2013Action on Film International Film Festival, where it also received a nomination for Excellence in Filmmaking.
“It’s important that we understand that perspective of what the ‘Water Wars’ mean on a really, really human scale,” stated Lois Henry,a newspaper columnist who reviewed the film for The Bakersfield Californian. “People should see this film.”