From MontereyHerald.com, Claudia Meléndez Salinas, Herald Staff Writer, 16 Jul 2011.
[Salinas Valley, CA] — D’Arrigo Brothers Co., one of the largest agricultural growers in the United States, has sued the United Farm Workers for breach of contract in a dispute stemming from efforts to decertify the union.
At stake in the decertification fight is whether the UFW continues to represent around 1,200 harvesters working for D’Arrigo in the Salinas Valley.
The falling out has emerged barely three years after D’Arrigo and the UFW finally agreed on a contract after three decades of negotiations. Their first agreement was set to expire Oct. 30, with an automatic one-year renewal unless new negotiations were requested.
But, according to documents filed with the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board, just as the UFW leaders had given D’Arrigo representatives a proposal for a new contract, D’Arrigo was promoting a decertification campaign to kick the union out.
The vote to decertify the union took place Nov. 17, 2010, but the union filed a complaint the week after challenging the validity of the election. The state board agreed to hear the dispute, and the election ballots have been impounded pending the result of the hearing.
In a 24-page letter, lawyers for the UFW detailed instances in which they say D’Arrigo managers helped in decertification efforts or failed to make sure all workers voted.
For instance, attorneys named several crew leaders who helped with the campaign by offering a day off to those who wanted to take forms to “get the union out,” or that allowed employees to circulate the petition during work hours.
Union lawyers also allege the petitioner for the decertification, Alvaro Santos, was seen in crews where he does not work, during work hours, gathering signatures with the consent of foremen.
The participation of employers in decertification efforts is against the law.
UFW lawyers also allege union supporters were not given the same access to employees as decertification supporters and that D’Arrigo management took several measures to make it difficult for some workers to vote.
In March, the state board agreed to hear most of UFW’s objections to the election. By then, the UFW had agreed to withdraw one of its objections to the election: that D’Arrigo representatives had promised benefits to the employees on condition the union be voted out.
The board granted the request to withdraw the charge.
However, “evidence of this alleged conduct may be admitted, to the extent it is relevant, in the consolidated unfair labor practice/election objection case … that is now in hearing,” said Joe Wender, senior board counsel with the state board. “In other words, it may be admitted to support the allegation that D’Arrigo instigated and supported the decertification petition, but not to prove an independent violation based on the promise of benefits alone.”
In a letter dated Feb. 18, UFW lawyers promised not to present any evidence on this point, that the union wants this objection entirely dismissed, and that the UFW would not “pursue, nor assist pursuing … in any fashion whatsoever.”
On June 23, D’Arrigo lawyers filed a lawsuit in Monterey County Court, claiming the labor union has breached the agreement entered on Feb. 18.
Geoffrey Gega, attorney for D’Arrigo, was in hearings Friday and could not be reached for comments. John Snell, D’Arrigo’s labor relations director, did not return a phone call Friday.
UFW representatives did not want to comment for this story.
The UFW has struggled with dwindling membership rolls, listing fewer than 5,300 members in a report to the U.S. Department of Labor last year. The group was dealt a blow late last month, when Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation that would have allowed farm workers to join a union just by signing a card rather than holding an election. The legislation was opposed by growers and their allies.
Claudia Meléndez Salinas can be reached at email@example.com or 753-6755.