FUJ Leader and attorneys called out for lies by UFW Vice President

  • July 21, 2020

Erik Nicholson’s court statement accuses Guillen’s team of lying in a court document–that’s perjury!

Rosalinda Guillen and her one-farm union Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ) lost in court in their effort to impose the “bunk bed rule” on Washington farmers. Hidden within the story reported in Capital Press is the real story. That Rosalinda, her leaders, and their attorneys engage in outright lies.

And behind their effort on bunk beds is their self-serving motive of stopping guest workers from working in Washington state. Erik Nicholson, the National Vice President of California-based UFW said those submitting the court declaration for FUJ lied in statements about a “secret” deal and receiving money from farm worker housing. He also said the bunk bed rule was just a part of FUJ’s long-standing campaign against guest workers. 

The strong accusations by Nicholson echo what Save Family Farming has been saying for years–that this group uses lies, intimidation, and threats to pursue their agenda of stopping 20,000 plus guest workers from helping harvest our crops.

Why? To force farms into signing a contract with them that will allow them to take money from the workers the farmers hire. They hide behind claims of helping workers. Yet, their action has cost hundreds of workers their highly valued jobs and taken food off the table of numerous families in Mexico.

In a declaration submitted to the Thurston County Superior Court on July 8, 2020 UFW’s Erik Nicholson, told the court: “I make this declaration in response to numerous false claims made by Plaintiff Familias Unidas por la Justicia (“FUJ”) and its counsel in filings with this court.” 

If Nicholson’s accusations are accurate, the representatives from FUJ and the lawyers from Columbia Legal Services (CLS) are guilty of a felony and could face up to five years in jail. According to a legal website, perjury in a court document is serious: “A witness under oath commits perjury by making a statement in a court or other proceeding that the witness knows is not true.” 

The false claims

Nicholson claims that FUJ in their court document accused him of a secret backroom deal negotiated with farmers that did not include the elimination of bunk beds in farm worker housing. He provides details of the efforts to include FUJ leaders Ramon Torres, Edgar Franks and Kent Kok in the negotiations.

He also states that two CLS attorneys, Andrea Schmidt and Kathleen Barnhard, knew of the negotiations and were informed that UFW would proceed without them if they declined to participate. He says that Torres was initially eager to participate in the negotiations with a representative of fruit growers, but: “I can only conclude that Ramon was strong-armed by his lawyers to decline participating in the negotiations he initially expressed eagerness to be a part of.”

In addition to possible perjury charges, lawyers licensed by the Washington Bar have additional ethical obligations: “A lawyer must not offer evidence that the lawyer knows to be false. RPC 3.3(a)(4). If a lawyer comes to know that he or she has offered material evidence that is false, such as false client testimony, then the lawyer must promptly disclose this fact to the tribunal unless disclosure is prohibited by RPC 1.6. RPC 3.3(c).”

FUJ and Columbia Legal Service lawyers, seeking to undermine Nicholson’s credibility in the court case, accused him of having a financial interest in farm worker housing. Nicholson says this claim is: “either the result of an intentional misrepresentation by FUJ’s attorneys or blatant ignorance.”

FUJ and CLS were trying to prove that Nicholson agreed in the so-called “secret” negotiations with a grower representative because of a financial motive. By claiming he had a financial stake in farm worker housing he would benefit by keeping that housing in operation while FUJ and CLS were trying to limit allowable bunk beds. FUJ and CLS filed this action in Thurston Superior Court to convince the judge to impose this severe restriction which the state has rejected.

According to Nicholson the real motive behind the bunk bed rule is not worker safety but the longstanding effort of Guillen and friends to eliminate the use of guest workers in Washington. The judge agreed that the state’s actions were reasonable and rejected FUJ’s money-motivated court action.

FUJ and CLS’s real motive exposed

Rosalinda and her team of Torres, Franks and Kok, have fought hard since at least 2013 to stop guest workers, also known as H-2A workers, from working on Washington farms. Guest workers, mostly from Mexico, represent about one third of the seasonal farm work force in the state. Guillen and company have made numerous false statements about the program, worker treatment, abuse by farmers, worker animosity toward the program, etc.

These include blatant lies such as the continually repeated lie about a Sumas farm causing the death of a worker. Guillen also claimed in a hearing in front of state legislators that there is no shortage of domestic workers––a ridiculous claim in the face of the well documented shortage. She succeeded in getting the state to add unnecessary costs and burdens on the use of this program despite the already very high cost and bureaucratic requirements.

Nicholson makes clear that the primary motive of FUJ and CLS is to end the use of guest workers in the state. The bunk bed rule they were trying to force the state to impose was just an example of this motive. He states in the court document: “FUJ’s repeated stated goal is to end the federal H2A program in Washington and believes that a ban on bunkbeds will achieve that goal.” 

Save Family Farming has been working to expose this harmful goal of Guillen for several years. Guillen and other FUJ leaders believe that by keeping farmers from hiring guest workers, they can impose contracts with FUJ on farmers. Their vicious and false attacks on a long-standing Japanese-American family farm in Skagit County because they hired a few guest workers to supplement their declining domestic workforce proved successful and the farm signed the one and only contract that FUJ has.

Because the farm agreed to the contract, FUJ can now extract 2.5% from each worker’s paychecks whether or not the worker supports the so-called union or not. Nicholson’s clear statement of motive gives credence to Save Family Farmers’ claim that for Rosalinda and FUJ, it’s all about the money––the same claim behind the accusation against Nicholson and UFW related to farm worker housing.

The “bunk bed rule,” as we pointed out, would not only seriously limit the 2020 apple and fruit harvest, but would likely lead to far more worker illnesses. That’s because the bunk beds are in the best government inspected temporary worker housing available. Domestic workers arriving from other states would find the expected access to this quality housing restricted and likely resort to sleeping in their cars and moving into overcrowded local worker homes.

Fortunately, the state saw through Guillen’s efforts and, while adopting many rules that would not contribute to worker safety and would be virtually impossible for farms to implement, access to farm worker housing was allowed.

Can Nicholson’s and UFW’s word be trusted?

Is this a case of he said-she said? Supporters of Guillen can reasonably claim that Erik Nicholson is not a credible source. While we believe in this court declaration everything that Nicholson said was true, we are troubled by other statements and efforts he has made regarding farm workers that don’t stand the credibility test.

For example, in their action against a Washington family dairy farm, for ten years they maintained the farmer abused workers with a series of accusations of terrible mistreatment. They succeeded in getting major media and even the Seattle City Council’s attention to these false claims. UFW protested against major retailers selling Washington-produced dairy products in an effort to force farmers into signing contracts with the UFW.

When the issue finally came before a judge, Nicholson and UFW withdrew all but a few of the claims because they knew they could not stand up in court. Then, they and the farmer agreed to walk away from the lawsuit and counter lawsuit with neither paying the other anything. And for this Nicholson declared victory!

Sadly, both FUJ and UFW share the tactic of promoting lies against farmers in order to try to sign contracts that allow them to extract money from workers’ paychecks. Workers don’t want or need this, as is evident in California.

The sad fact is that UFW has a history of proven abuse of their own workers and a former UFW worker organizes against them stating that UFW’s treatment of their workers is far worse than what they accuse farmers of. A California court had to seize farm worker dues paid to the union in order to settle a $2 million judgment against the union for failure to pay its own employees.

It’s no wonder over 99% of California farm workers reject representation by this union and it represents workers in only two organizations in Washington State.

We remain hopeful of a change in UFW’s tactics, away from lies and false accusations. We are hopeful that they will move toward cooperative work with farmers to make more valuable work opportunities for domestic and guest workers in the future. The fact that UFW is playing a key role in the national Farm Worker Modernization Act is one hopeful step toward this goal.

Why did Washington State refuse to enter Nicholson’s declaration into the court filings?

Nicholson prepared his declaration, but since he was not a party to the case, he offered it the defendants, the state of Washington Department of Labor and Industries and Department of Health.  Then it got really weird.  The Attorney General’s office is the lawyer defending the state agencies, and they should have jumped at the chance to file a declaration that severely undercut the claims of the plaintiffs.

Instead, the AG’s office, on behalf of their clients, refused to file Nicholson’s declaration. Why would an attorney refuse to file testimony that was helpful to its client?  In this case, the testimony was a proverbial smoking gun that cut the legs out from the plaintiff.  The Attorney General apparently did not want to upset FUJ, a union who has caused its clients and the taxpayers of Washington undue costs and headaches at a time when we all should be working together.  In the end, Nicholson decided to file the declaration himself, even though he was not a party to the case.

It’s no wonder that farm groups felt it necessary to intervene in this case. An Attorney General that retired staff members claim views his office as a political tool and who refused to enforce the law against perpetrators of the “What’s Upstream” debacle, cannot be trusted to do right by farmers. Was he or his staff concerned that Nicholson’s strong accusations could lead to questions as to why the FUJ leaders and attorneys are not held accountable for making false statements to the court?

Does he not want to bring perjury charges against those he views as important for his political future? Does he really think such accusations and proof of the dishonesty and selfish motives of this group can be swept under the rug?

We encourage you to read the entire declaration of Erik Nicholson below (pdf of declaration uploaded below post).

Declaration-of-Erik-Nicholson-Familias-Unidas-1