In this case, two farms sued the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) over a rule that allows union representatives, notably the United Farm Workers (UFW), to trespass on private property to solicit new membership. In one instance, UFW workers snuck onto a worksite at 5 a.m. and distracted workers with bullhorns as a way to intimidate them.
This kind of activity is disappointing, but not surprising. The UFW and the ALRB have a pattern of trampling the rights of farmworkers to retain power. I should know — I was on the front lines of a similar fight not long ago.
Workers at Gerawan Farming spent five years locked in court battles after voting overwhelmingly to leave the UFW. This came after the union tried to force a contract on the workers that would have lowered their take-home pay, despite the fact that the UFW had abandoned the workers completely for two decades prior. In other words, these farmworkers had no voice.
That’s what inspired Gerawan worker Silvia Lopez to found Pick Justice in 2015. I was proud to stand with Silvia and thousands of Gerawan workers as we staged the largest farmworker protests in California history to ask for fair treatment from the ARLB.
What we saw during this fight was jaw-dropping.
As reporter Katy Grimes described at the time, the UFW and its ALRB allies waged an intimidation campaign meant to silence these workers and block their rightful votes. For instance, the ALRB segregated workers at polling places and interrogated them, then forced them to show two forms of ID to vote. All of this was meant to get back to other workers as a way to scare them and suppress their votes.
All the more disappointing in this debacle was the blatant hypocrisy. The UFW, the ALRB, and most California lawmakers declare themselves advocates of the immigrant farmworker. Yet Silvia Lopez is an immigrant, I am an immigrant, and most of the farmworkers across our state are immigrants, all of which fled corrupt nations to find better opportunities. Yet the same level of corruption is trying to keep farmworkers down here too.
Thankfully, justice was served in the Gerawan fight, as courts ordered the workers’ votes counted, and they were finally free of the UFW.
But this didn’t stop the UFW. Their ally in the legislature, Darrell Steinberg, proposed a bill (SB 25) which would have forced farmworkers into mandatory contracts, even if it lowered their take-home pay. When Gerawan workers spoke out against it in Sacramento, the ALRB and UFW interrogated the workers to force them to name their coworkers who were speaking out.
Luckily, justice prevailed in this case too, and SB 25 was defeated. However, this latest decision in Cedar Point v. Shiroma shows that our fight is far from over.
Following this ruling, the UFW is sure to continue sneaking onto farms trying to intimidate workers into joining. This is no surprise — the union’s influence has been waning for decades. According to The Washington Post, there were just 10,000 members of the UFW last year.
Despite this, the ALRB is still running interference for the UFW as the union shows no signs of cleaning up its act.
That’s why Pick Justice is not backing down. As long as the UFW continues forcing itself on workers, we’ll be there. As long as the ARLB has cronies in leadership (like Isadore Hall and Genevieve Shiroma), we’ll be there. And as long as anti-farmworker laws keep coming out of Sacramento, we’ll be there.
California must do better to defend the rights of farmworkers. If we band together and make our voices known, change is possible.
• Jesse Rojas is a farm worker rights activist, spokesperson for Pick Justice, and founder of California Farm Workers & Families PAC.
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