Jesse Rojas, the spokesperson for Pick Justice, summarized the July 24, ALRB decision in favor of the Gerawan farm workers as “amazing.” The ALRB ruled the UFW broke the law and violated the rights of Gerawan farm workers on September 9, 2015, at a public hearing conducted by the ALRB in a hotel in Fresno.
At the 2015 public hearing, Nancy Oropeza, a UFW organizer, instructed hotel security to ban Gerawan Pick Justice employees from attending—in violation of their protected concerted activity. ALRB Administrative Law Judge Mark R. Soble (ALJ) issued the decision that the UFW violated the Agriculture Labor Relations Act by temporarily excluding a group of pro-decertification, anti-UFW farm workers of Gerawan at the recent hearing based on witness interviews and, more importantly, a video that captured everything.
“As you know, with these legal matters,” Rojas explained, “the UFW unfortunately still has the right to appeal it, even though a remedy has been issued. The remedy includes posting notices, just like typical unfair labor practices, to let employees know the UFW broke the law and that it is not supposed to happen again.”
“Ultimately, the ALRB—an unelected, governor-appointed board—has the authority to make the ultimate decision to uphold the ALJ’s full decision, to change it, or to deny it,” Rojas remarked.
“What is a bit disturbing, especially if you compare other cases where the ALRB is very strong against a company or a grower for violating employees’ rights,” he continued, “is the three ALRB members in Sacramento did not want the UFW to advertise the Judge’s remedial message that the UFWbroke the lawon theUFW’s La Campesina Radio Network. Furthermore, the ALRB did not uphold the ALJ’s recommendation to retrain their organizers so this does not happen again.”
“But because Judge Sobel publicly claimed that the video was a very persuasive piece of evidence,” said Rojas, “the ALRB still upheld that the UFW violated the law. So, the ALRB toned down the severity of the issue and basically just gave [the UFW] a slap on the hand. But we are hopeful that eventually, even if the UFW appeals, this will get remedied and the employees at Gerawan will know that the UFW broke the law and that they have the right to attend a public government hearing.”
Pick Justice is an organization that advocates for 99 percent of the farm workers in the state of California to protect both their freedom to choose their own labor representation as well as their constitutional rights. Pick Justice has supported the Gerawan farm workers in their ongoing legal attempt to mandate the courts to force the ALRB to count their votes from a 2013 election to decertify the UFW as their labor representative.
Pick Justice’s Jesse Rojas and Gerawan Employees Will Never Give Up
By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor
For nearly five full years, Gerawan Farming Inc. employees have fought a legal battle for the State of California to count their votes cast in the November 2013 election to decertify the United Farm Workers (UFW) as their bargaining representative. According to Jesse Rojas, a farm worker rights activist and spokesperson for Pick Justice, “Anything the UFW does, the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) is right next to them; and anything the ALRB does, the UFW is right next to them. They are one single entity for the most part; they are a partnership.”
Rojas said the ALRB and UFW filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court this week of the Fifth District Court of Appeal decision to count the votes. “We would not be surprised if the state Supreme Court accepts the appeal because Governor Brown appointees and friendly judges would always be likely to take the case,” said Rojas.
“This is where the UFW and the ALRB have failed to mention to the public the fact that we are just asking for the votes to be counted,” Rojas explained. “We are not saying, ‘Certify the results.’ We are not saying, ‘Once you open them and count them, let that be the final choice.’”
“We are saying, ‘You can still litigate it,’” Rojas continued. “‘You can still appeal it. You can still destroy [the ballots] if you want but count them. So why are you so afraid to simply count them?’”
‘This is the perfect question for the UFW, the ALRB, and our California legislators: Why are you so afraid? Employees deserve to know what the choice was, even if you choose to destroy [the ballots] afterward,” Rojas said.
Rojas explained how Governor Brown appointed people to the ALRB who are UFW sympathizers or people who have worked for the UFW.
“It is not only corrupt, it is also very sad and unfair to see over the last years how many companies and jobs have been lost. How many employees and families have been affected? I am not talking just about Gerawan Farming Inc. workers. We can go on and on in McFarland, Delano, Bakersfield, Salinas and Santa Maria for similar examples of how the ALRB has failed to protect farm workers.”
“Launching Pick Justice was great because it started with thousands of Gerawan farm employees who have been very courageous and have not given up,” Rojas explained. “Pick Justice expanded when other workers started reaching out to us from different companies, perhaps dealing with different issues. For example, we have a lot of workers from the Monterey and Salinas area that have been under a UFW contract for decades, but the UFW fails to protect them.”
“The UFW neglects its members by not reporting certain things to them, by segregating those employees who are unhappy with [the UFW] as well as keeping them away from information or meetings,” Rojas said. “Also, by being on the side of the employer—whatever the employer wants to force upon the workers, even if it’s not in their best interests—and forcing it down their throats.”
“After I reached out to Silvia Lopez, we started to meet over the following months. Many of the workers reached out to me. I have spoken to them on my phone. I’ve gone to their houses. I know their spouses. I know their children. I’ve eaten with them, and that’s where I became even more passionate. I said, ‘Look, you guys are the face of this. Your courage is what makes this effort great over so many years; you just don’t give up. You know what you want, and you know what is right.’ ”
“All I have to do,” Rojas continued, “is help you with communication media using techniques that I know, which is so simple. Social media, digital marketing, things that I grew up with and that I’m very good at. Pick Justice is not about me; it’s about them. If they weren’t still fighting, if they weren’t as strong and courageous as they are, we would not have Pick Justice today.”
“In this fight, we’ve gone up against almost all odds. We are going against the state government. We are going against a three- to four-decade-old system, with views, opinions, and decades-long teachings of the UFW and its leaders—its idols, per se—who have parks, schools, and streets named after them.”
“We’ve been attacked, and we continue to be attacked. But we know what we’re doing is right, and we have the numbers. If I didn’t have thousands of workers standing behind me, I wouldn’t be able to do this.”
Rojas said the Gerawan farm workers absolutely knew if they kept fighting, they would be vindicated.
“They did not give up; they are so motivated. And now, we’re in a waiting game for the most of accounting, but the stakes are high.”
“Think about Silvia Lopez,” he said. “You don’t think she’s going to be attacked by the UFW after attending Ivanka Trump’s recent Central Valley event? You don’t think I’m going to be attacked? I’ll give you an example. When Silvia met Tim Donnelly, a 2014 gubernatorial candidate who cared about her story, the UFW circulated a flyer of that picture and called her a racist towards all employees. Why? Because she’s searching for help for farm workers.”
“The UFW is weak; they represent less than one percent of the farm workers. California has an estimated average of 800,000 farm workers in the state—could be more, could be less,” Rojas said. “Current UFW membership fluctuates around 5,000 active members—less than one percent of farm workers. So for them to continue to be quoted as ‘the champions for farm workers and for Latino workers’ is absolutely wrong.”
“Specifically, their words and their actions do not go with one another,” he continued, “including their stance on immigration. If people simply looked up some of the legislation opposed by the UFW, they would see that the UFW is actually not for immigration. It is ironic and hypocritical to keep quoting and portraying the current UFW leadership as pro-employee and pro-Latino.”
“I know I will never give up and I know that thousands of workers behind me will never give up.”
When Will the Court Ordered Gerawan Votes Be Counted? Part 1
By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor
Jesse Rojas, a farm worker rights activist and spokesperson for Pick Justice, (PickJustice.com) expects the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) and United Farm Workers union (UFW) will appeal the recent ruling by Fifth District Court of Appeals in Fresno, which ordered the ALRB to count Gerawan Farming, Inc. employees’ votes cast nearly five years ago.
Specifically, on May 30, 2018, the Court ordered the ALRB to count Gerawan farm employees’ votes cast in a November 2013 government-sanctioned election to decertify the United Farm Workers (UFW) as their collective bargaining representative, a union that abandoned the workers for over two decades.
The ALRB held the decertification election in response to petitions filed by Gerawan employees following notification that the UFW moved to impose both UFW bargaining representation and union dues (three percent of salary) on Gerawan employees under the Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation Regulation created in 2002 but then amended in 2011 to allow ALRB to reverse election wins.
Historically, the ALRB certified the UFW as the bargaining representative of Gerawan employees in 1992; however, the UFW never attempted to negotiate in good faith with Gerawan Farming, Inc. on behalf of the employees, nor did the UFW collect dues. The UFW then abandoned the Gerawan employees for nearly a quarter of a century.
Rojas explained, “Our state government continues to refuse to count the votes. That is un-American. These thousands of workers, Hispanic workers who are Americans, came to this country for freedom and the ability to choose what is best for them and their families. They have been waiting for nearly five years for the government to count these votes. Where are the votes? We don’t even have confirmation of the safety and status of those ballot boxes.”
“When the Fifth District Court of Appeals made this announcement, Silvia Lopez was absolutely stunned by it,” said Rojas. “She feels like we haven’t really won a lot in the last few years. At one time, Silvia said, ‘I escaped the corruption from my government in Mexico and I get to California and I’m starting to experience the same and feel the same way,” Rojas said.
“Ninety-nine percent of my family still lives in Mexico, so I know what we ran away from, what makes this country great, and why we are here. So it’s really sad for us to see in this particular state, with Jerry Brown and the majority of the legislators in Sacramento, they are breaking away families because of economic suppression and government corruption,” he said. “They are destroying jobs or they are complicit in the destruction of thousands of jobs, not just at Gerawan Farms, the biggest example. There are multiple companies where the UFW and the ALRB, both, and our government, have failed to protect worker rights and their jobs.”
“I’ll tell you, ” Rojas continued, “from reading most of the decision, which was over 130 pages, it was historic—not just because they said, ‘Count the votes,’ but because of specific legal arguments they used. They went as far as putting a footnote that told the legislature they should amend or change the law, so this does not happen again. They really went above and beyond to explain why this has been really wrong and why it needs a big remedy.”
“I’m not only biased,” Rojas said, “I am 100 percent pro-agriculture and pro-farm workers because I grew up in farming. You know, the moment my parents and I arrived from Mexico, we encountered the history of the grape strikes and UFW beginnings. I grew up hearing their stories and ideology.”
Seeing how their current actions and results differ from the original movement told throughout history, this drove Rojas to step out and publicly speak about it.
Pick Justice advocates freedom of choice for farm workers. They are concerned citizens who support the rights of workers to choose whether or not they want to have a union represent them. They are standing up for workers who are victimized by a politicized government agency. They believe that freedom of choice is a human right. From their “About Us” page: “People who are not educated are deprived of their freedom by those who are educated.
Pick Justice exists to educate the public about the corrupt relationship between a once-noble union and the dishonest government employees at the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB). We want to help social change to show that, once a union has violated the trust of those it purports to represent, that union no longer votes for the workers.” Pick Justice encompasses the vibrant website www.PickJustice.com, plus YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Snapchat social media outlets.
Rojas is also founder and CEO of The Redd Group, LLC based out in Bakersfield. “At The Redd Group, we provide all aspects of labor relations and human resources consulting,” he explained. “This year, we started doing more political consulting and public relations, helping campaigns and companies understand data blind spots that may keep them from maximizing their potential and coach them to adopt winning strategies by focusing on the simple 3 M’s of marketing: identify the specific Market, then craft the exact Message, then finally choose the best Medium to deliver the message. Wherever and however we can, we try to contribute our views and beliefs, as well as whatever we can do to change a little bit of the government for the better and create awareness where needed.”
Jesse Rojas, spokesperson for Pick Justice, a farm worker rights group (not a union)organized a rally of farm workers last week at the California Supreme Court building in San Francisco to bring attention to the court hearing on the UFW’s effort to force unionization on farm workers at Gerawan Farming, Inc.—despite having abandoned the workers for nearly 20 years. Over 150 Gerawan workers traveled from the Central Valley to protest the UFW/ALRB team that is pushing for forced unionization of these farm workers via the justice system through Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation (MMC).
Gerawan workers, dressed in blue Pick Justice t-shirts and armed with company ID cards and pay stubs to demonstrate authenticity, chanted at the UFW protesters who wore red UFW t-shirts. Rojas said the UFW individuals were apparently not Gerawan farm workers and were paid to be there. “All attending [in our group] are employees of Gerawan Farming,” he stated.
“I wish all 3,000 Gerawan workers could have come today like they’ve done in the past,” Rojas said. “But they actually have to work because they are real workers and they don’t get paid to come here. They miss days of work. A lot of them are going to get written up. They are going to get into trouble. They have had to find babysitters to take care of their kids; they are real workers.”
Rojas explained the focus of the demonstration is the need for these employees to choose their own future. “At this point, what is really important for them—not just them, but for all farm workers in the state—is simply to have the freedom to choose—freedom to vote.”
“Why would they have to be forced into a contract without reading it, without negotiating it, without approving it?” Rojas asked. “It’s not the American way. That’s not a democracy. The most fundamental civil right that all employees have is the right to vote if they want a union or not or if they want a contract or not.”
“But they are not getting those rights. Why not them? It is their right to vote and have their votes counted,” Rojas said.
If the Court imposes mandatory mediation, Rojas said the outcome “would affect about every farm worker in the state, almost 800,000 of them. The rights of the workers would be taken away.”
“The way mandatory mediation and conciliation works is the ALRB, the state government, has the right to write and impose a contract on employees without their approval,” Rojas explained. “In the Gerawan case, they will not have the right to strike or protest like they are doing today.”
“On top of that, this so-called contract will actually lower their take-home pay,” said Rojas, because mandatory UFW union dues totaling three percent of their paychecks would be imposed on the workers. If any of them refuse to pay the union as a condition of employment, they will be fired.
The justices of the California Supreme Court have until December 5th to make a ruling.
To see a video of Jesse Rojas speaking to California Ag Today, click here.
PickJustice.com celebrates freedom of choice for farm workers. As posted on their website:
We are concerned citizens who support the rights of workers to choose whether or not they want to have a union represent them. We are standing up for workers who are victimized by a politicized government agency.
Freedom of choice is a human right. People who are not educated are deprived of their freedom by those who are educated.
PickJustice.com exists to educate the public about the corrupt relationship between a once-noble union and the dishonest attorneys at the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB). We want to help social change to show that, once a union has violated the trust of those it purports to represent, that union no longer votes for the workers.
As César Chávez himself said, “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”
A generation ago, many farm workers were afraid of their employers. That isn’t the case anymore.
Thanks to organization against social injustice and a greater consciousness of producers and consumers alike, the plight of thousands of farm workers in America is over.
In César’s words more than three decades ago: “The very fact of our existence forces an entire industry – unionized and non-unionized – to spend millions of dollars year after year on improved wages, on improved working conditions, on benefits for workers.”