Oxnard, Calif. (July 27, 2004) — The United Farm Workers (UFW) union agreed late yesterday to pay out over $105,000 in back pay to a large group of strawberry pickers unlawfully fired from their jobs for refusal to join the union and sign dues check-off authorizations permitting the union to collect full dues directly from their wages.
The settlement comes after attorneys with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation persuaded the General Counsel of California’s Agriculture Labor Relations Board (ALRB) to issue a complaint against the UFW union in December 2003 for unlawfully ordering and causing the mass firings of more than 100 Oxnard Coastal Berry employees in 2001. Under the settlement agreement, those workers will receive checks to compensate them for lost pay within the next several weeks.
With the assistance of Foundation attorneys, Francisco Alcazar, Bertha Ambriz, Bertha Andrade, Ella Carranza, Alma Rose Arredondo, and Manuel Mena filed the class-action unfair labor practice charges against the UFW union in June 2001. Coastal Berry, which employs approximately 750 workers, is the world’s largest strawberry producer.
“These employees so disdained the notion of joining and supporting the UFW union, that they decided they would rather lose their jobs,” said Foundation Vice President Stefan Gleason. “It’s an outrage that the union would attempt to drive dissenting workers into financial ruin.”
The unionization of Oxnard Coastal Berry occurred under controversial circumstances in the first place. In May 2000, by order of an ALRB packed with three one-day appointments by Governor Gray Davis, UFW union officials were granted monopoly bargaining power over Coastal Berry employees – even though a large number of the employees did not support the union. In March 2001, Coastal Berry entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the UFW union. Within days, UFW officials demanded that all Coastal Berry workers join the union and sign payroll deduction cards that would have allowed union officials to seize dues from their paychecks.
The ALRB complaint stated that UFW union officials unlawfully demanded that the berry pickers pay full union dues as a condition of employment, violating several Foundation-won U.S. Supreme Court decisions, including Chicago Teachers v. Hudson. UFW union officials also unlawfully failed to inform employees of their rights to object to paying for non-collective bargaining activities (such as politics), and the right to challenge the union’s fee calculations before an impartial decision maker.
California State Senator Tom McClintock (R-19th District), whose legislative district borders Oxnard, weighed in for the workers: "The National Right to Work Foundation should be commended for representing the hard-working Californians that have been denied their jobs due to politics. Ironically, the UFW claims to be for workers, yet it turned more than 100 workers away from the fields where they have labored for years.”
The plight of Coastal Berry’s union-abused workers was featured in a national public television documentary.