Last fall the United Farm Workers announced that its president, Arturo Rodriguez, would be stepping down after 25 years at the helm of the controversial union. Teresa Romero has since taken his place, accompanied by some glowing articles about her.
Columnist Marcos Bretón of the Sacramento Bee said this: “Romero is ready for the fight and has dedicated her life to it. Hopefully, you can find time to pay attention.”
Many will be paying close attention, as will those who care about California’s agricultural community, and the well being of farmworkers. For too many years, the UFW has gotten away with well-documented actions that directly hurt farmworkers.
There are more than 80,000 farms in California, and the UFW has less than 30 of those under a collective bargaining agreement contract.
Founded by activist Cesar Chavez in 1962, the UFW was meant to serve as a voice and advocate for farmworkers. However, the union has been exposed conducting some troubling anti-worker actions.
In 2017 the UFW reached a $1.3 million settlement to a former UFW employee who sued them, claiming the union withheld backpay and overtime, in addition to subjecting him to unfair labor practices.
Yet this hypocritical behavior is not an isolated incident for the UFW. The union has directly harmed the very farmworkers it is supposed to represent, as was most evident during the harrowing seven-year saga of Gerawan Farming. The Gerawan case finally came to an end late last year, which I covered.
I’ve been reporting on the Gerawan Farming workers fight against the UFW since 2012. The UFW won an election to represent Gerawan Farming Company’s workers in 1992. But after only one bargaining session, the union disappeared and wasn’t heard from for more than 22 years. In October 2012 the union reappeared to impose a contract on Gerawan Farming and its 5,000 employees — without a vote of the workers.
The workers then revolted, voting by a 5-to-1 margin to leave the union.
UFW allies on the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown, their attorneys and administrative law judge, spent nearly $20 million of California taxpayers dollars, to suppress the votes of 2,500 Latino immigrant farm workers who did not want the labor union in their workplace. In some cases, the ALRB used shady tactics such as changing rules, forcing workers to show identification, and segregating and “investigating” certain voters to intimidate them (I wrote extensively on these tactics HERE).
Teresa Romero says she wants to make women’s and “#MeToo” issues a major focus of her leadership. While a noble cause, it raises some questions: Did the UFW care about the hundreds of women who were harassed and silenced during the Gerawan debacle?
According to Jesse Rojás, who had firsthand involvement in this affair, the UFW didn’t just ignore female farmworkers, they took some troubling actions against them. “When Gerawan farmworker activist Silvia Lopez, one of the leaders of the fight to leave the UFW, tried to speak with former Governor Jerry Brown, a top UFW leader physically blocked her way,” said Rojás. The whole incident was captured on video and reported by the Sacramento Bee.
Another time, a UFW leader grabbed Lopez by the wrist and twisted her arm. I was with Lopez at a meeting in the Governor’s office later that day.
Thankfully, the Gerawan workers got eventually beat back the UFW, as the courts ruled that their votes had to be counted. But the deep-rooted issues at play in this event have not been resolved, leaving many to wonder if something like it will happen again.
The ALRB continues to be a powerful ally of the UFW, and could still do the union’s bidding at the expense of farm workers across the state. One of the board’s members, former State Senator Isadore Hall, a Democrat form Los Angeles, is an especially dubious member, because of his dependable support of union labor, and especially the United Farm Workers labor union.
As I’ve written, Hall has close ties to the UFW, having taken donations from them for his last campaign, so his ability to be a fair arbiter of truth in farm labor cases is in question. The UFW’s Facebook page has photos of ALRB Board member Isadore Hall marching with the United Farm Workers on October 22, 2014 in support of the Los Angeles City Council Resolution opposing Gerawan Farming and its employees.
“For the ALRB’s ostensible purpose, of course, Hall is woefully unqualified, Matt Patterson of Forbes wrote of Hall. “But for its actual purpose — rubber stamping UFW actions and persecuting growers — he is eminently qualified.”
This comes at a time when California farmer’s unions are reeling. According to former ALRB chairman William Gould, who resigned from the board in 2017, he saw just one case of farmworkers who wanted to join a union in his entire three-year tenure – only one.
Many want to know why the ALRB is going to bat for a union fading into irrelevancy, instead of fighting on behalf of all California farmworkers.
All of the farm workers I’ve spoken to say this is because the vast majority of farm workers are tired of unions forcing them into contracts they didn’t vote on, and which significantly reduce their take-home pay, and their voice with employers.
Workers say unions should start focusing on helping workers, rather than controlling them.
As Teresa Romero leads the UFW, many hope she can right the wrongs the labor union has been perpetrating on employees and farm workers for years and actually seek to help farmworkers across California, as was their sole mission at one time.
Notably, Gerawan Farming petitioned the United States Supreme Court for review of California’s Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation law, which appears to collide with the First Amendment and due process principles.