Dairy farm employees get the straight facts about United Farm Workers—and the union leaders don’t like it

  • July 18, 2019

Educational meetings with Eastern Washington farm employees were attacked by UFW with more false accusations

Farmers and farm employees met in Granger and Yakima in early July to hear from an attorney, a farm worker and a former UFW union employee. They presented information to the farmers and farm employees about the United Farm Workers to better enable farm employees to make informed decisions about the union and its promises. Save Family Farming, the sponsor of the farm employee meeting, is aware of the union leadership’s concern about this effort to provide factual information about the union, its activities and strategies. The UFW has a right to be concerned about farm employees learning about the union. They do not have a right to seriously distort the facts about the sponsors of the meeting nor the guests who came to inform our employees.

In communication from union leaders to major dairy customers, UFW leaders made numerous false accusations that need to be addressed. Here are accusations and why they are false:

UFW claims Darigold leadership is behind these meetings. But Darigold is not involved in this effort, nor are its leaders organizing it.

The UFW says that leaders of Darigold were behind this meeting and the purpose was to “silence workers.” Darigold was not behind this meeting and the purpose was the opposite of silencing workers, it was to give them a voice.This union is following a much-practiced established playbook. It attacks well-known product brands and retailers of those brands to force the farmers to sign union contracts. They try to force these contracts even if the farm’s employees do not want to join the union. UFW, having been rejected by workers on every dairy farm in California, is now targeting Washington’s family dairy farms.

Most of the dairy farms in Washington and some in Idaho and Oregon, are members of a dairy farm cooperative. They sell their milk to the cooperative-owned processor and marketing entity named Darigold. Through media reports, protests and direct communication with major customers of dairy products such as Costco and Starbucks, the union strategy is to force farmers supplying milk through the cooperative to sign union contracts. Their concern is not the interests of workers or whether or not employees even want the union. They are not even bothering to ask workers if they want the union to represent them. They simply want the contracts that will allow them to take money from the workers’ paychecks.

So, who is behind these farm employee educational meetings? Save Family Farming and its affiliates in Whatcom and Skagit Counties and Eastern Washington are led by a wide variety of farmers serving on their Advisory Boards and Governing Boards. Approximately 60 farmers and farm-related businesses are represented on the Advisory Board of Save Family Farming which has eleven Governing Board members. It is false to suggest that Darigold is directing Save Family Farming and Eastern Washington Family Farmers as a UFW leader has claimed.

The attorney we invited to talk to farmers about the union was then accused by UFW of using threats of deportation against workers. The facts show this is a serious distortion.

Save Family Farming hired Anthony Raimondo, a Fresno, California-based attorney to meet with Washington family dairy and fruit farmers. Raimondo was hired because of his deep experience in representing farmers subject to UFW action. It was of particular interest to us that Raimondo reported that without exception all dairy farms in California where UFW had been certified had held a vote of employees and that vote resulted in the rejection of the union by the workers. The UFW statement makes allegations against Raimondo, specifically that he uses threats of deportation against dairy farm employees who bring legal action against farms. We asked him to respond to those allegations:

“I am AV Pre-eminent rated by Martindale Hubble, the highest peer review rating an attorney can receive in California. For the majority of my career, I have represented agricultural employers in labor disputes, a role that makes one few friends in the union movement.

“In the course of my practice, I cooperated with federal authorities investigating the misappropriation of federal funds by California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA), and CRLA filed a lawsuit against me in retaliation, accusing me of having dairy workers deported. These allegations were false, and never proven. The case against me was dismissed, and when the dismissal was reversed on appeal, my insurance carrier chose to settle rather than incur the cost of what would have been a long and controversial litigation. The allegations were never proven, there was no admission of wrongdoing, and the UFW has simply seized on these false accusations to disparage me. Indeed, it is the record of the union that deserves more attention – a record that has been fully litigated.”

Raimondo further noted that he provided pro bono legal services for over five years to Silvia Lopez in her effort to help farm workers at the Gerawan farm have their voices be heard on union membership.

In short, it is to be expected that the UFW would dislike and disparage an attorney who has successfully supported farm employees and employers in rejecting the union and exposing their tactics. What is unacceptable is the serious distortion of this attorney’s record.

UFW accused farm worker advocate Silvia Lopez of being paid for her work in supporting worker rights against the union. UFW never mentions that this accusation is only not true, but was proven false in court.

It is particularly sad that UFW would so viciously and wrongly accuse farm worker Silvia Lopez of profiting from her work in educating farm employees about the union. Save Family Farming paid for her transportation to Washington from her home in California but she refused any compensation for her very valuable time. Mrs. Lopez spent her time off including rest and meal breaks to communicate with fellow Gerawan Farm employees. She is incredibly passionate and committed to supporting her fellow farm workers which is obvious when she speaks to them.

The UFW accusations against her say she was paid by the farm for communicating with workers. The union leader states that the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board found Lopez was paid $15,000 for her work. The union-controlled state board did find that, but it was a viciously false accusation and demonstrates how harmful this state board is to the interests of California farm employees. The most telling example of that is the fact that for five years the Board refused the voice of the workers to be heard by refusing to allow their votes to be counted. It took Lopez, working with Raimondo, five long years of agency and court appeals to finally force the state board into counting the votes by a California Court of Appeal decision. This Court also determined that the accusations against Lopez being paid for her work were false. The UFW knows that very well, but insist on repeating a disproven lie. Do they think what happens in California stays in California?

Lopez reports that it was not the anti-union protesters who were paid, but it was the pro-union protesters paid by the union. She stated the union could not get actual farm workers to fight against their fellow employees so they paid people to pose as farm workers.

When the votes were finally counted by order of the Court of Appeals, almost 90% of workers rejected UFW representation. This resounding victory for the right of workers to choose whether or not they will be represented by the union is a story that the UFW does not want told to Washington’s farm employees.

Was Lopez paid for her work in communicating with her fellow employees as UFW and the state board claimed? No. The California Court of Appeal found, according to attorney Raimondo:

As the California Court of Appeal explained, “nothing in the record reasonably shows that Gerawan was in any way involved in or exerted influence over the series of events or decisions leading to CFFA’s making of a gift to assist the interested workers regarding transportation costs.”  Moreover, the Court condemned the Agricultural Labor Relations Board for siding with the UFW, explaining, “The tragic irony of the Board’s finding of unfair labor practice is that the workers who engaged in their right to peacefully protest and petition for redress before the Board were the ones ultimately punished by the Board.”  The California Court of Appeal found that the protests led by Silvia Lopez,[sic] and the donations received to enable them, were part of the workers’ exercise of their rights under both California Labor Laws and the First Amendment, yet the UFW continues to ignore the court and insist that Silvia engaged in wrongdoing. 

UFW’s communication did not attack Francisco Cerritos. That’s an interesting omission.

We’ve addressed the distortions and outright falsehoods against Raimondo and Lopez, but we find it interesting that in their communication with major dairy customers they do not mention the name of Francisco Cerritos. Mr. Cerritos also addressed the farm employees at the Eastern Washington meeting.

Francisco Cerritos was a long time employee of the United Farm Workers, deeply passionate about farm workers and protecting their interests. He was a “submarine” as he explained. Submarines are union organizers who infiltrate the workforce of a target company to make promises to workers, stimulate grievances against their employers, convince them to be the “victim” the union can use to take legal action, and tout the benefits of joining the union. But, in this work Mr. Cerritos made a troubling discovery. He explained to the farm employees in the meeting that he found that the employees he was trying to talk into supporting the union were being treated considerably better than the union’s own employees – including him.

His response was to form a union of UFW employees. He called this union “La Union Es Para Todos (The Union is for Everyone)”. But, the UFW leadership retaliated strongly and fired him. So, he filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of his fellow UFW employees. He claimed missed rest breaks, failure to pay required overtime pay and other examples of wage theft. It is ironic that these are exactly the usually false claims made against farms targeted by the UFW. But these claims were not false the Court found. Cerritos and fellow employees won a $1.8 million judgment from the Court and UFW ended up paying $1.3 million in employee back pay and penalties.

It is understandable that communication from the union does not mention Cerritos. He reveals the inner workings of this union – the corruption and the mistreatment of their own employees – as only an insider can. Mr. Nicholson obviously does not want major customers they are pressuring, let alone farm employees, to know anything about Mr. Cerritos and his passionate efforts to reveal the true nature of the “sindicato” that the UFW is.

Save Family Farming believes farm employees deserve a voice.

The UFW claims the meetings in Eastern Washington were intended to silence dairy farm employees. The facts show that it is the other way around. The UFW is making no effort to determine if farm employees have any interest in union representation. To convince the workers, they must show that they can deliver value beyond the 3% they will extract from the employee’s pay checks should a union contract be signed. They make grandiose promises of increases in pay and benefits, as Lopez and Cerritos noted, but these promises are empty and increasingly ignored as more employees are made aware that the union has not kept its promises. In the Gerawan situation, the union won the vote in the 1990s but the union had no contact with the employees from 1995 until 2012. When workers tried to get assistance on an issue, they were ignored, Lopez stated. That is exactly why Lopez began questioning why they were taking money from her paycheck and doing nothing for the workers. This is why by a vote of 11-1 the nearly 5000 employees of the Gerawan farm voted to end the theft of their pay by a union which did nothing for them.

Save Family Farming organized this meeting on behalf of farm employees. They deserve a voice even though that voice is being ignored by the UFW. To have a voice, they need to be informed about the real nature of UFW. For example, those who oppose the union such as farm worker advocate Sylvia Lopez face threats and intimidation. Workers at the Ruby Ridge dairy farm in sworn testimony revealed terrible threats and intimidation by union organizers when they refused to support the union. Lopez recounted with anguish the things the union said publicly and falsely about her family. She recounted how she was intimidated by union employees following her in black cars with dark windows and how they would stand outside where they knew she would pass. She was afraid, but her passion and conviction for doing right by her fellow workers never stopped her from her efforts.  The UFW does not want Washington farm workers to hear the whole story of how they have treated workers in California, not just in the fields, but on the union’s own payroll.

UFW is trying to force union contracts whether workers want them or not.

Right now the UFW is filing a growing number of claims on behalf of workers claiming mistreatment by dairy farmers. Among these are claims of sexual harassment. The Employment Security Department of the State Department of Labor & Industries widely publicizes among farm employees the anonymous means they can complain about problems with their employers including sexual harassment. ESD reports there are very few of these complaints filed. As demonstrated by the facts presented here, the UFW has no qualms about false accusations.

Their strategy and plan is simple. They are trying to force farmers into signing union contracts without regard to their employee’s asking for or wanting them. To do that, they are pressuring large customers of the farm’s dairy products.  They use and abuse an often all too willing and eager media to report their wild accusations. They get friendly legislators such as Seattle state senator Rebecca Saldana to introduce legislation against farmers and their employers such as the infamous farm “slavery bill” in the last session. (Saldana is a former union organizer from Oregon according to press reports.) They use paid protesters to stage protests at major retailers and headquarters of targeted brands. They file numerous lawsuits against farmers, many if not most without merit, but with the knowledge that they can use these lawsuits to get the compliant media to report the accusations as if they were true. These blaring headlines add to the pressure on sellers of the farm’s products. They also undermine the trust and respect the public and consumers have in farmers. All this, so that union leaders can live off the hard work of farm employees.

Ultimately, this effort will fail. Whether the union likes it or not, the decision will rest with the farm employees. If they determine that the UFW will indeed improve their lives, they will support the union’s efforts and any farmer opposition will be overcome. But the UFW now represents less than one percent of California’s farm employees and nearly every certification vote in the last while has resulted in workers voting out the union rather than voting it in. If farm employee leaders such as Silvia Lopez emerge in Washington, and if they learn and tell the truth about what the UFW is all about, then employees will send the “submarines” to seek opportunities elsewhere.