Labor Unions Could Be Cause of Farm Closings

Major Farm Operations With UFW Contracts Have Shut Down

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

Farms operations shutting down due to labor unions and UFW contracts is something that is suspected, but businesses do not outright admit it, said Robert Roy, President/General Counsel at the Ventura County Agricultural Association based out of Camarillo.

“Last year, you had the closure of all of the strawberry operations for Dole,” Roy said. “They shut down all of the strawberry operations in Ventura and Santa Maria and Watsonville, so that was at one time very large UFW-contracted operations. They had over 1,500 workers since the mid-1990s.”

Roy explained that workers see no reason to pay three percent of their wages for many of the things that farmers are now providing that maybe they didn’t previously when UFW was around.

“Farmers have basically caught up with many of these UFW contracts, and selling the union to the workers is a much more difficult proposition, especially when they have to pay three percent of their wages,” he said.

Roy says that most Supreme Court decisions have been pro-worker as of recently, including a recent case involving a Starbucks employee.

“We have been watching some of their decisions over the last 12 months, and they’re very nuanced decisions dealing with wage and hour issues and rounding practices,” Roy said. “They recently issued a decision on a class action case where a Starbucks employee was owed $112 because after he clocked out, he would lock the door, and do other tasks. The California Supreme Court came back and said, ‘well, you know, $112 to some people is a week of groceries. He’s owed it.’ So the California Supreme Court is very pro-worker.”

Does UFW Cause Farm Closures?

Legal Explanation of Anecdotal Farm Closure Reports

By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor

Scores of farms in California have gone out of businesses over the last four decades, and many suspect that UFW pressure was to blame for farm closures. But there is no definitive reported evidence that this has happened.

“There are no specific facts that you can cite or any empirical evidence you will find that growers who closed down their businesses did so because of the UFW,” responded Robert Roy, president/general counsel for the Camarillo-based Ventura County Agricultural Association, when asked about such verbal reports.

Roy explained that it is not illegal for a business to claim it shut down, such as a farm closure, due to a union, according to a recent Supreme Court of the United States decision.

“But people just don’t talk about that in general,” he clarified.

“Generally, if someone’s been under a UFW or other union contract for a number of years, you see the cost of that contract makes them very noncompetitive with other non-union employers, both in-state and in other states,” Roy said. “In the past, UFW contracts had considerably more costly items in their employment packages, usually starting with higher wages, plus [non-wage] costs such as paid vacation, paid holidays, a union pension plan, and a union medical plan. So cumulatively, as the years go by, these costs are a pretty heavy hit for a lot of these employers.”

“Such costs are probably the only thing you can look to determine whether a farm went out of business because of the union,” he explained. “Of course, this is anecdotal evidence because you are not going to find people out there who will tell you directly they went out of work specifically to avoid the union.”

food safetyRoy said the public would not encounter those types of situations in which a business owner will assert the UFW caused their farm closure.

“I would think if a business had to stop operating,” Roy said, “maybe the owner of the business might put out a statement that explains what caused the farm closure. But we did not see that either.”

“When I first came here to Ventura County as a young attorney back in 1977,” Roy recalled, “there were somewhere between 30 to 40 UFW contracts in this area. Now there is only one—Muranaka Farms,” the largest U.S. grower and shipper of bunched green onions, according to their website. I think they have a very small workforce of perhaps 50 people here in Moorpark, California. I believe the rest of their operation is in Mexico, but I do not know if that operation is covered under the UFW contract.”

Roy continued, “Then last year, you had the closure of all of the strawberry operations for Dole Food Co. They shut down all of their strawberry operations in Ventura, Santa Maria and Watsonville. At one time, they had a very large UFW contract with over 1500 workers since the mid-1990s.”

“It is a tough deal for a union to convince workers to pay three percent of their wages in dues,” Roy said, “for many of the benefits that farmers now provide. I think farmers have basically caught up with many of the provisions covered in these UFW contracts. So, selling the union to the workers is a much more difficult proposition, especially when they have to pay three percent of their wages.”



Ventura County Agricultural Association is a business trade association that concentrates on providing services to agricultural employers, packing sheds, and labor contractors in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties since 1970. The organization’s services include training, dealing with union matters such as grievances and arbitrations,  representing members in administrative and court proceedings, and creating handbooks and policies. The Association keeps its members up-to-date on any federal, state or local laws that affect their operations.


Resources

Guild, Todd. (Updated 2017, July). Dole Berry Co. to close doors,” Register Pajaronian.

Mohan, Geoffrey, (2017, Sept. 3). Pulling back from strawberry market, Dole Food Co. to lay off 402 workers in Northern California,” Los Angeles Times.

Dole Fresh Vegetables Announces Precautionary Recall of Limited Number of Salads

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported TODAY that Dole Fresh Vegetables, a subsidiary of Dole Food Company based in Monterey, California, voluntarily recalled a limited number of cases of bagged salad yesterday.

The products being recalled are Dole Italian Blend, Fresh Selections Italian Style Blend, Little Salad Bar Italian Salad and Marketside Italian Style Salad, with Use-by date of March 12, 2014 due to a possible health risk from Listeria monocytogenes. Dole Fresh Vegetables is coordinating closely with regulatory officials and has posted the recall on their website.dole_logo

No illnesses have been reported in association with the recall. This precautionary recall notification was issued based on one sample of Dole Italian salad that yielded a positive result for Listeria monocytogenes in a random sample test conducted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The salads were distributed in 15 U.S. states (Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia) and 3 Canadian provinces (New Brunswick, Ontario & Quebec).

William Goldfield, Director of Corporate Communications at Dole Fresh, said, “On the trace back, we’ve  been able to identify where the lots came from, the plant they were processed in, and that allows us to trace forward to the distribution points for these salad products.” Dole Fresh Vegetables customer service representatives are already contacting retailers and are in the process of confirming that the recalled product is being removed from the stream of commerce.

Dole employees

Although the products are one day past the Use-By date, it is highly unlikely that any product is still available at retail; however, retailers should check their inventories and store shelves to confirm that none of the product is mistakenly present or available for purchase by consumers or in warehouse inventories.

“Overall, we  have found that getting in front of an issue like this and identifying it head-on gets the best response from consumers,” commented Goldfield.  “The worst thing you can do, I think, is is to pretend that something like this isn’t occurring. We try to do our best to explain what’s happening to keep people informed.”

Listeria monocytogenes is an organism that can cause foodborne illness in a person who eats a food item contaminated with it. Symptoms of infection may include fever, muscle aches, and gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea. The illness primarily impacts pregnant women and adults with weakened immune systems. Most healthy adults and children rarely become seriously ill.

No other salads are included in the recall. Only the specific Product Codes, UPC codes and March 12, 2014 Use-by date identified above are included in the recall. Consumers who have any remaining product with these Product Codes should not consume it, but rather discard it. Retailers and consumers with questions may call the Dole Food Company Consumer Response Center at (800) 356-3111, which is open 8:00 am to 3:00 pm (PT) Monday – Friday.

Founded in Hawaii in 1851, Dole Food Company, Inc., with 2010 revenues of $6.9 billion, is the world’s largest producer and marketer of high-quality fresh fruit and fresh vegetables. Dole markets a growing line of packaged and frozen foods, and is a produce industry leader in nutrition education and research. The Company does business in more than 90 countries and employs, on average, 36,000 full-time, regular employees and 23,000 full-time seasonal or temporary employees, worldwide.