OPINION BY SILVIA LOPEZ
Area farmworkers hope to tell the California Supreme Court why the state is illegally forcing us to submit to a United Farm Workers “contract” that was never negotiated with us, and that we never voted on.
This is an important case for agricultural labor across California. The UFW pretends to speak for all farmworkers. But it speaks for almost none of us. So it should not be allowed to claim to address the Supreme Court in our name.
The Supreme Court is hearing a major case Tuesday, Sept. 5, about whether the state can impose UFW contracts on farmworkers. The state, through the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, argues that it can. So does the UFW. But the UFW is no longer the one we remember from César Chávez’s time. It doesn’t speak for farmworkers any more.
Gerawan farmworkers never voted whether or not to ratify the contract. Indeed, we voted to de-certify the UFW back in 2013, but the ALRB never counted our votes. The UFW is now using the ALRB as its government enforcer to impose its contract on us – and to ban us from trying to de-certify the UFW again until the year 2020 or beyond. UFW and ALRB want to enslave us into a “contract” that we never negotiated nor wanted.
The so-called contract would reduce our take-home pay, deny us the right to strike against the union, and certainly allow the ALRB to destroy the thousands of votes we cast to de-certify the UFW four years ago.
Farmworkers Avoid the UFW
Real numbers show that almost no farmworkers in California want to be part of the UFW.
The UFW’s own official figures show that dues-paying UFW members nationwide barely equal 1 percent of farmworkers in our state. William C. Gould, who stepped down this year as ALRB chairman, said that 99 percent of farmworkers here have no union representation at all. Most, he said, don’t even want a union, period.
Gould said that during his time on the board, the ALRB spent most of time handling the many worker requests to get rid of the UFW. He knew of only two requests to join the union.
So the UFW is lying when it claims to speak for most farmworkers.
Now, as the Supreme Court prepares to consider a constitutional issue, the UFW is trying to silence those of us who stand up for our right to choose. Workers on some farms desperately need unions. Others don’t.
Four years ago, I led the worker movement at Gerawan Farming to vote to de-certify the UFW after it had abandoned us for 20 years. We turned out in force, in the largest farmworker protest in California history. The ALRB never counted our votes. Farmworkers and our friends then founded Pick Justice to give us a voice. We have expressed solidarity with independent unions whose members the UFW also blackballed or ignored.
People started noticing a change as workers’ conditions improved statewide. Two years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown received me in Sacramento. UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta was videoed physically trying to block me. So the governor insisted that we both pose together with him, as if recognizing the UFW as a sentimental thing of the past, and the rise of new farmworker movements to replace the old.
About Pick Justice
Last year, the state officially recognized me as a “labor leader” among farmworkers. Even though Pick Justice is not a union, the state recognizes that there are new and legitimate farmworker leaders who view the UFW as a relic of the past that doesn’t meet new farmworker needs.
This is why it’s so important for the Supreme Court to hear directly from non-UFW leaders.
The UFW is fighting us hard, and it’s fighting dirty. For example, the UFW is lying to the Supreme Court to keep me from testifying under oath. Two weeks ago, the UFW went to the Supreme Court to smear me as an “agent” of my employer.
As scheduled, the Sept. 5 trial gives the UFW and its enforcer, the ALRB, 30 minutes to testify. It gives my employer, Gerawan Farming, 30 minutes. But the trial schedule leaves out those of us who are directly affected by the case. Workers who led the resistance to the UFW-ALRB coalition have zero time to petition the justices in person.
This is unjust. The Supreme Court is considering a constitutional issue that will affect all farmworkers for generations. Justices must hear from real farmworkers, not just professional political agitators who ran César Chávez’s UFW into the ground and have a financial stake at our expense.
We appeal to the Supreme Court to hear directly from us at the trial. Its decision will profoundly affect the 99 percent of farmworkers, union and non-union, who are not UFW members.
Silvia Lopez is a farmworker at Gerawan Farming in the Central Valley, and is President of Pick Justice www.pickjustice.com