Labor Matters: Say No to the Union

January 8, 2014 01:08 AM

With Paul Bauer, attorney

 Paul Bauer

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

Farmworker no longer equals the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) union. 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 fields to 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 15 years for Gerawan Farming, one of the nation’s largest stone fruit growers. 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 UFW’s new playbook.

The UFW’s plan to go after farmworkers at Gerawan Farming was foiled when they came across Lopez. The UFW was certified as the bargaining representative in 1992 at Gerawan after winning a contested election in 1990. After abandoning them for 20 years, UFW reappeared in October 2012 as though it was yesterday and demanded to negotiate lost contracts and collect dues, as has happened to Gerawan in California. And that is not a misprint.

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The workers were furious since the thousands of agriculture workers who would be affected by the agreement were not employed at the time of the election. The employees felt abandoned and did not want to pay 3% of their wages for the same or lower 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 to silence this alternative voice. The UFW continues to use the legislative process to make it 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.

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 that 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 any new legislation being introduced in your state legislature and other policymaking fronts.

Second, remain competitive with your wages and benefits.

Third, employees organize because they feel that their voices are not heard and workplace issues are unresolved.

Fourth, 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.

Finally, be consistent. Workers’ terms and conditions of work should be treated consistently, such as leaves of absence and disciplinary action.

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