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Lost On Vacation San Diego Part Two

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On July 23, 1998, the Coastal Berry Farmworkers Committee won an electionto represent the 1,000 farm workers employed at Coastal Berry Inc. by a vote of523 for the CBFC and 410 opposing the union. Coastal workers in Santa Cruz,Monterey and Ventura counties cast ballots. On July 24, 1998, about 600 of the900 Coastal workers went on strike to protest the election; Coastal threatenedto hire replacement workers.Coastal, with 775 acres of strawberries, is the largest berry grower in theUS that hires workers directly. Marketers such as Driscoll obtain berries fromindependent growers who hire workers. According to Coastal, base pay for berryworkers is $6.50 an hour, and most workers earn $10 to $11 underpiecerates.The Coastal vote was seen as a major setback for the UFW, which has beentrying for three years to organize berry workers: the San Francisco Examinercalled it "one of the most devastating ballot box defeats" in the UFW'shistory. The UFW had spent millions of dollars organizing at Coastal andenlisted the help of the AFL-CIO to locate union-friendly buyers of Coastal.The CBFC petitioned for an election on July 16, 1998 with 550 workersignatures. The UFW could have had its name on the ballot by submitting 200signatures. Instead, the UFW filed unfair labor practice charges with the ALRBin a failed attempt to block the election, alleging that the CBFC is anemployer-dominated organization and that Coastal denied the UFW access to 40percent of its workers--the UFW argued that it was not possible to have a fairelection at Coastal. The UFW urged its supporters to vote no union on theballot.The ALRB follows a "vote now, litigate later" policy so that migrants canvote before they move on to another farm. After the election was held, the UFWasked the ALRB not to certify the CBFC as bargaining agent at Coastal. The UFWcontended that Coastal workers could not make a free choice about unionrepresentation because Coastal supervisors intimidated them into supporting theCBFC. As evidence, the UFW showed a video of a CBFC protest on July 1, 1998;the wife of a Coastal supervisor is shown throwing strawberries at a womanwearing a UFW shirt. The CBFC worker who signed the petition to hold theelection was arrested on July 1 for assault. The UFW later amended its chargeto include the allegation that 162 recently laid off Coastal employees inOxnard were not advised of the election; the ALRB scheduled a September hearingon this UFW charge.Coastal also objected to the election, echoing the UFW's charge that theCBFC is not an independent union.Under the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, the CBFC cannot beginbargaining with Coastal until the ALRB certifies that CBFC won the election,which normally occurs within five days, if there are no objections. The ALRBsaid that the UFW's objections to the election raised two "novel legal issues"that required resolution by the full five-member board: (1) whether the UFW,which was not on the ballot, can raise objections to the election; and, (2)whether Coastal workers (in the bargaining unit) can object to the election.Under NLRB procedures, only parties involved in the election may fileobjections to it. The ALRB, in a July 15, 1998 decision rejecting the VenturaCounty Agricultural Association's effort to have the Swanton Berry Farmselection won by the UFW overturned on the grounds that employment was not atleast 50 percent of peak, concluded that only "actual parties to an election"may file objections--the union requesting an election, the employer and anyintervening unions.If the CBFC is certified, the UFW would be barred from attempting toorganize Coastal workers for at least one year. Strawberry shipments in the first half of 1998 were five to 10 percentlower than usual in the two major states, California, which typically produces80 percent of US fresh strawberries, and Florida, which accounts for fivepercent.On July 28, the ALRB was called to testify before the CaliforniaLegislature by Senator Hilda Solis


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