The UFW has been at the forefront of organizing California’s farmworkers since the mid-60s. It’s a challenge. Growers lease their land to sub-contractors, who become the workers’ new employer, or change their corporate entity, evading responsibility for past transgressions. Workers, who may be undocumented, are spread over several miles, moving from day to day and from crew to crew. The window to organize them is as short as the harvest season, a time when there is much pressure to bring in the crops. And the workers themselves are migratory, moving from crop to crop, city to city as the seasons shift. Some growers deny workers shade. Others deny bathrooms. Others deny sick pay or health benefits. I spoke with a woman who had been bitten by a snake while picking grapes, went to the hospital, missed three days of work, and was denied three crucial days’ salary. A man told
me he and his coworkers just got a bathroom, after years of requesting one, now that the UFW is organizing at his vineyard. Legal gains have been made, however.
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UFW organizers have access to the workers in the field just before and after the workday, and during the floating lunch period, for only 30 days after the union files a request to the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board. Once the union has collected support cards from 50 percent of the workers, they can call for an election. But, an election win doesn’t always guarantee a contract. Some growers drag their negotiating feet. D’Arrigo Bros., one of California’s biggest agribusinesses, has strung along its workers since 1977! Yesterday, the California Supreme Court upheld a lower ruling to force growers to negotiate in good faith or face mandatory mediation. For years, the growers had wormed their way through the legal system to overturn – or at least postpone – their legal requirement to come to terms on a contract. Growers profit from the status quo; the longer they stall, the more they make, and the more farmworkers and their families lose. The court’s ruling will shake the Central Valley’s fundamental bearings like a San Andreas fault line. Finally, farmworkers who have fought for the right to negotiate the terms of their employment will be able to do exactly that. That’s joyous news for us here at Campo de Justicia.