L.A. School Board Tells Giant Grower to Honor Its Workers' UFW Contract

Los Angeles Unified School District's Board of Education voted nearly unanimously on Tuesday, Feb. 10 to urge a giant Central Valley grower to implement its workers' union contract. The resolution by board member Steve Zimmer passed on a 6-0 vote and also asked the school district's procurement office to let it know about Gerawan Farming's compliance with fair labor practices before contracts with the nation's biggest tree fruit grower are approved by the board. LAUSD, through its suppliers, has purchased Gerawan's Prima-label produce for its 1,270 schools and 907,000 students.

When powerful growers bullied farm workers in the fields during the 1960s and '70s, Cesar Chavez turned for support to the cities, including Los Angeles. Last October 22, Gerawan farm workers appealed to the Los Angeles City Council, to stand with them against present-day bullying in the fields. The City Council unanimously approved a similar resolution. Gerawan farm workers on Tuesday also asked the L.A. school board to stand with them against bullying in the fields.

A neutral state mediator specifically selected by Gerawan Farming issued a union contract that was approved by the state in 2013. Under terms of that contract, Gerawan already owes its thousands of workers millions of dollars in pay raises and other benefits. The company will owe millions of dollars more over the duration of that contract. Yet Gerawan fiercely resists its workers at every turn, and according to the state's top prosecutor in agricultural labor relations, has committed some of the most flagrant labor law violations in California history.

California prosecutors -- working for an independent, semi-judicial state agency -- have recently issued five damning complaints or indictments against Gerawan following thorough investigations by state agents. The latest complaint, issued in September, alleges that "Gerawan and its supervisors" unlawfully supported workers who "stopped work and engaged in anti-UFW and anti-[state] protests [to promote] decertification [of the UFW]...that Gerawan...coerc[ed] workers into participating in [those] protests...that Gerawan [has] intimidat[ed] workers who refused to attend [the company-orchestrated demonstrations]"and that Gerawan also repeatedly engaged in threats, interrogation and surveillance of workers.

The LAUSD resolution is also important because it calls upon the school district's procurement division to ensure that Gerawan is complying with "fair labor practices in the event any contracts with this vendor are brought to the board for approval."

Gerawan's money and power--backed by a slick PR campaign run from Washington, D.C. by Grover Norquist and the Radical Right -- have thus far denied these workers justice in the fields. That's why Gerawan workers came to L.A., turning to consumers, to the court of public opinion and to the Board of Education -- asking the board to help them win the justice that Gerawan denies.

Tuesday was also 36 years to the day since farm worker striker Rufino Contreras was shot to death on a UFW picket line near El Centro, Calif. School board members honored Rufino's sacrifice by standing with the Gerawan farm workers in their fight for justice.