Labor, Litigation, UFW, Unions & Organized Labor

Ag Giant’s Effort to Decertify UFW Reaches Key Point

From MontereyHerald.com, Claudia Meléndez Salinas, Herald Staff Writer, 6 Sept 2011.

Hearing before labor board may end today

Salina CA — A hearing that may determine the validity of an election to decertify the United Farm Workers at agricultural giant D’Arrigo Bros. could end today.

At issue is whether ballots cast on Nov. 17, 2010, to revoke the UFW’s right to negotiate contracts on behalf of 1,200 harvesters at D’Arrigo should be counted.

“If they were to be decertified, the UFW, that would be a significant blow,” said Philip Martin, an expert on agricultural labor at UC Davis.

The decertification effort by D’Arrigo comes three years after it agreed to sign the first contract with the UFW after decades of negotiations.

The hearing at the Agricultural Labor Relations Board office in Salinas began in June. It has been in session for 46 working days and has heard about 80 witnesses. After the hearing, lawyers for the parties will send briefs arguing their case, and a decision could by issued by next year.

The decision is likely to be appealed, Martin said, as is the case in most hearings of this nature.

UFW representatives argue the November election is not valid because D’Arrigo representatives helped decertification efforts, which is illegal. In weeks of painstaking testimony, they called witnesses and presented documents to bolster their case.

D’Arrigo attorneys presented mountains of evidence and called their own witnesses in an effort to refute those assertions.

The UFW argues the election should be set aside because it took place at the lowest point of the harvest season, when about half of eligible voters were on layoff status. Attorneys claim the UFW did not get a list of employees in time to notify laid-off workers about the vote.

Marla Van Cleve, payroll/human resources director for D’Arrigo Bros., testified Thursday about the circumstances surrounding layoffs before the election took place.

Responding to questions from D’Arrigo attorney Regina Silva, Van Cleve said there were layoffs the week before the election. She was notified by the foreperson the morning the layoffs occurred because she had to issue checks for the workers.

Van Cleve said she was asked by Geoffrey Gega, another D’Arrigo attorney, to issue a layoff report the morning of Nov. 15. The report took about three hours to produce, she said. After checking the data, she finished the process by about 2 p.m., she said.

UFW attorney Thomas Lynch asked Van Cleve why, in records provided by the company, two workers, Gabino V. Yanez and Gabino Valdez, had the same employee number. He noted Van Cleve testified earlier that the company tries to keep employee numbers intact at all times.

Van Cleve said the records subpoenaed for the hearing were generated by entering last names — not employee numbers.

Labor contracted

The UFW also wants the board to toss out the election because it says D’Arrigo failed to provide a list of all of its workers and where their crews would be stationed so they could be notified of the election.

Frank Fudenna, general manager of Fanciful Co., a company that specializes in harvesting cauliflower, testified about the company’s relationship with D’Arrigo on Friday.

Fanciful harvests D’Arrigo’s fields through a joint venture. Whatever the crop sells for, after costs, Fanciful receives 12 percent. The company has similar contracts with other growers, such as Tanimura & Antle and Church Brothers.

Fanciful is in charge of the entire harvesting operation. The company uses its own machinery and hires workers through a labor contractor.

Fudenna said he does not discuss exact labor costs with D’Arrigo; rather, harvesting costs are bundled. D’Arrigo pays Fanciful on a weekly basis, based on costs estimated from a year earlier. At the end of the season, if the cost of labor exceeds the estimates, D’Arrigo reimburses Fanciful.

Claudia Meléndez Salinas can be reached at 753-6755 or cmelendez@montereyherald.com.

Source: MontereyHerald.com, “Ag giant’s effort to decertify UFW reaches key point” by Claudia Meléndez Salinas, Herald Staff Writer, 6 Sept 2011.

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