Well-financed anti-labor groups related to America's radical right are coming to the aid of giant Fresno, Calif.-based Gerawan Farming to avoid implementing a union contract under which it already owes millions of dollars to thousands of its grape and tree fruit workers. Gerawan, with more than 5,000 workers at peak harvest season, sells peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots and grapes under its Prima label.
Gerawan refuses to implement a contract with the United Farm Workers issued in 2013 by a state mediator and affirmed by the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board under a state law letting workers call in neutral mediators to hammer out contract provisions after failed attempts at traditional bargaining.
Gerawan's refusal to implement the contract is the latest in a long history of labor law violations that began in 1990, when its workers voted to be represented by the UFW in the last major union organizing drive under Cesar Chavez's leadership. The mammoth employer was soon found guilty of unlawfully firing a crew of workers and closing six labor camps in retaliation for employees supporting the union. Since workers brought in the state mediator in 2013, the state of California has issued a new series of complaints--tantamount to indictments--against Gerawan, alleging serious, multiple and repeated violations of the law. They include illegally refusing to bargain in good faith, instigating and supporting drives to get rid of the UFW; interrogating and spying on workers; intimidating employees exercising their right to participate in negotiations; and refusing to implement the state-issued union contract.
After heavily spending on an array of law firms, public relations firms and anti-union consultants (some of whom have been paid $3,000 a day), Gerawan is benefiting from slick media campaigns including billboards on Central Valley highways apparently orchestrated and underwritten by national chieftains of the radical right, which includes Grover Norquist and the billionaire Koch brothers (David and Charles). Behind the pro-Gerawan blitz is the Center for Worker Freedom, a project of Americans for Tax Reform and led by the anti-government activist Norquist, architect of last fall's Republican shutdown of the federal government. Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform has reportedly received significant financial support from the Koch brothers.
Now Gerawan Farming is a beneficiary of the radical right's war on unions and workers. The Americans for Tax Reform-sponsored "Center for Worker Freedom" have fought workers trying to organize with the United Auto Workers in Tennessee. Norquist also led the campaign that killed labor law reform in Congress and he has mounted drives in a number of states to cripple union members' right to participate in the political process.
In its paid media drives, Center for Worker Freedom complains that "big labor" is trying to take over farm workers' lives at Gerawan. What's really at issue is the big money that Gerawan owes its workers under the union contract that the Norquist and Koch brothers-financed group is helping the giant grower avoid paying.
Under contract terms set by the state mediator--not the UFW--as of September 2, 2014, most Gerawan employees would have received approximately $1,591 each, retroactive to July 2013. This was to cover paid holidays and regular wage increases, reflecting a 54-hour workweek. The contract also would have handed other Gerawan workers (including irrigators, tractor drivers, and pesticide sprayers) a 2.5 percent wage increase, also retroactive to July 2013, plus 5 percent pay hikes in 2014 and 2015.
For approximately 5,000 farm workers, those back wages and benefits would have conservatively translated into many millions of dollars, just covering July 2013 to September 2014. Going forward, the contract would produce many millions of dollars more for workers over its duration.
In February 2014, workers at Gerawan filed a federal class-action lawsuit accusing the company of not paying many workers minimum wage, overtime and paid rest breaks guaranteed under state law.
Gerawan, an agricultural industry behemoth, is directly spending big money, and the billionaire far right is coming to its aid, all to avoid paying millions of dollars that the state of California says its workers are owed under terms of the union contract the grower refuses to implement. Gerawan workers are asking the public and major retailers to encourage the company to obey the law and implement the contract. To participate and keep up with Gerawan and other farm worker campaigns, sign up for the UFW's free list serve at www.ufw.org/prima.