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November 2013 Archive for Labor Matters

RSS By: Dairy Today: Labor Matters, Dairy Today

Experts cover today’s key dairy labor issues and offer fool-proof techniques to optimize employee performance, sat­isfaction and longevity.

Saying No to the Union

Nov 07, 2013

The United Farm Workers is re-energizing and looking to ramp up efforts across the country. What should you do if you don’t want your dairy to be taken over by the UFW?

By Paul Bauer, attorney

Farmworker no longer equals United Farm Workers of America (UFW). There’s a new voice bubbling up from the fields. It’s a voice that is saying no to the union, and this sentiment is strengthening among second- and third-generation workers. From the fields to the dairies, new employee-employer relationships are developing outside the control of the UFW.

This new voice is starting with farmworkers like Silvia Lopez. Lopez is a single mom who has worked for Gerawan Farming, one of the nation’s largest stone fruit growers, for 15 years. Her mother and father worked for Gerawan and her daughters do too. It’s a family affair and she likes it that way. Her employer gives flexibility so that her daughters can pursue their education and work in the fields. She has been called the new Cesar Chavez by the media and she’s bringing light to the UFW’s new playbook.

The UFW’s plan to go after the farmworkers at Gerawan Farming was foiled when they came across Silvia Lopez. After abandoning them for 20 years, the UFW reappeared to negotiate lost contracts and collecting dues, as has happened to Gerawan in California. And that is not a misprint. The UFW was certified as the bargaining representative in 1992 at Gerawan after winning a contested election in 1990. The UFW, however, disappeared for 20 years and never attempted to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement.

The UFW reappeared in October 2012 as though it was yesterday and demanded to negotiate the contract. The workers were furious since the thousands of agriculture workers who would be affected by the agreement were employed at the time of the election. The employees felt abandoned and did not want to pay 3 percent of their dues for the same or less benefits.

When they complained, the government agency charged with protecting them, the Agriculture Labor Relations Board, summarily dismissed them. "How dare the workers not want to be represented by the UFW" was the impression the workers were left with. But this emboldened workers like Lopez to take charge of their own workplace by gathering nearly 3,000 signatures to request the right to decertify the UFW. While Lopez is humbled by the comparison, she is an example of a true civil rights leader. She has taken on the UFW and slayed the dragon that was blocking their right to vote on union representation.

This is the new frontier in agriculture labor relations. Many of today’s agriculture workers are second and third generation. They are better protected and earn substantially more than those before them. They no longer automatically support the union.

There are new efforts being employed to silence this alternative voice. The UFW continues to use the legislative process to make is easier to organize. The UFW gains political strength with helping elect UFW-favored politicians and obtain appointments by governors in high-level, policy-driven positions. They are re-energizing and looking to ramp up efforts across the country.

The drama unfolding in California with UFW is telling of the play that is underway perhaps across the nation. While California has its own agriculture worker protection act, suffice it to say the UFW is poised and ready to use its political muscle to exploit legislative and legal avenues to strong-arm their way in.
 
So what can you do?
 
  • First, remain diligent in keeping apprised of new legislation being introduced in your state legislature and other policymaking fronts.
  • Secondly, remain competitive with your wages and benefits. An employee’s pocketbook may be the single greatest factor of employees wanting to obtain representation.
  • Thirdly, employees organize because they feel that their voices are not heard and workplace issues are unresolved. Make sure employees feel safe at work and can go to any supervisor to discuss their concerns.
  • And, do not give unions a chance to use workplace violations to threaten litigation and hold you captive to demand concessions. Make sure you are compliant with the wage and hour laws of your state and local jurisdiction. Make sure you promote respect and professionalism at work.
  • And lastly, be consistent. Workers’ terms and conditions of work should be treated consistently, such as leave of absences and disciplinary action.
 
Something special happened when the UFW abandoned the farmworkers at Gerawan Farming – a strong, respectful employee-employer relationship emerged. The UFW didn’t plan for that.
 

Paul J. Bauer is an attorney with the California-based Walter & Wilhelm Law Group. You can reach him at pbauer@w2lg.com.

Hopes Dim for Immigration Reform This Year

Nov 04, 2013

Insistence by the House for a piecemeal approach to immigration overhaul and the sheer quantity of issues makes it highly unlikely that anything will be done this calendar year.

Miltner photo   CopyBy Ryan Miltner, attorney

One year ago this week, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Dairy Today Elite Producer Business Conference

The day I was speaking happened to be Election Day. By that day, it looked like the pathway for Mitt Romney to win the election was all but closed off. During the question-and-answer session following my presentation, I offered that I thought comprehensive immigration reform was a dead letter.

In the days after the election, attention turned to just how poorly Romney and the Republican Party fared with Hispanic voters. Almost overnight, a discussion over crafting a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration bill sprung up. Coalitions in both the House and the Senate seemed to compete with each other over who would be the first to introduce a bill and, therefore, have a perceived upper hand in crafting the terms of the legislation.

One year later, my pre-election thoughts on comprehensive reform look spot-on. I wish that were not the case. With only a few legislative days before the end of the current Congressional session, prospects for movement are dim. Recall that on June 27, the Senate passed a comprehensive bill on a bipartisan basis. Since then, the House coalition to introduce a bipartisan bill fizzled. The House has since focused on a piecemeal approach, taking up multiple bills each addressing a part of the immigration problem.

Last week, Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez provided his opinion that the House will consider "a full menu" of stand-alone bills and that doing so would be the only way to move immigration reform forward given the balance of power in the House. In doing so, presuming that each of the stand-alone bills pass, it could set the stage for a conference committee charged with reconciling the Senate comprehensive bill with the individual components passed by the House.

A partial list of the components of the Senate bill illustrates just how many potential bills could be in or out of a final bill: the DREAM Act, agricultural visas (both temporary and permanent), border security, E-Verify, guest workers, green card reform, technology improvements are all addressed in the Senate bill. The sheer quantity of issues makes it highly unlikely that anything will be done this calendar year, and that isn’t even taking into account the federal budget, the debt ceiling, and finishing up the farm bill.

That will force the immigration discussion into yet another year, which is, of course, an election year. If past election years provide any guidance, any progress to be made will have to occur before the summer. After that point, members become so focused on keeping their jobs that they are either absent from Washington or doing nothing while in Washington to agitate potential voters. What will spur action is the perception among the Republican leadership as to whether taking action on immigration will attract more Hispanic voters or alienate those opposing reform. On that point, I won’t venture a guess.

Ryan Miltner is an agricultural and estate planning lawyer in private practice. His agricultural practice is focused on dairy policy and the economic regulation of the dairy industry. The opinions in this article are his own observations prepared for Dairy Today and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any of his clients. Contact him at ryan@miltnerlawfirm.com.

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