NOTE: The original story was updated Feb. 11, 2015, to include statements from Farmworkers Rights and Gerawan Farming.
Mirroring a position taken by the city last year, the Los Angeles Unified School District board approved a resolution Tuesday in support of farm workers seeking a union contract from a Central Valley grower.
The board’s resolution calls on the district’s procurement division to update the board on the labor practices of Gerawan Farming before any contracts involving the company come up for approval. Board member Tamar Galatzan abstained from the vote, which was otherwise unanimous, questioning its necessity since the district has no direct contracts with the company.
A district procurement official told the board that one of the district’s contractors may rely on the company when it cannot obtain produce from its original source, but there is no direct business relationship between LAUSD and Gerawan.
Board member Steve Zimmer, who sponsored the resolution, said the move was simply a statement that the board will “stand with the United Farm Workers in this contract fight.”
Gerawan workers voted in 1990 to be represented by the United Farm Workers union, but have yet to come to an agreement on a contract. A neutral mediator chosen by the company was brought in and a contract was approved by the state in 2013, but Gerawan has yet to sign it, UFW representatives said.
“Just because a large contract may not be with this particular grower, the abuses that are going on in the fields could be something that we would directly be contributing to or indirectly contributing to, and we are putting our procurement division on notice: We are concerned about this grower and we want to ensure if there is a contract or a subcontract with them, that when they come to this board, if they ever come to this board, these issues have been resolved.”
Gerawan employees under the movement Farmworker Rights contest the claim that they seek union representation, noting that the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board refused to count worker votes in an election on Nov. 5, 2013 to de-certify representation by the UFW.
In an open letter to elected officials, Gerawan employee Silvia Lopez wrote:
“I am writing to tell you that the farm workers at Gerawan aren’t fighting for a new contract; we’re fighting to have our votes counted from the November 5, 2013 Decertification Election to get rid of the UFW! The UFW continues to tell lies and say that the farm workers want the UFW. But we don’t!”
Gerawan Farming co-owner Dan Gerawan also rejected the claim of a pro-union movement among his employees and stated his objection to ALRB enforcement of a UFW contract.
“We have a long history of paying the industry’s highest wages and have the best working conditions,” Gerawan said. “UFW suddenly returned two years ago to force a so-called contract on our employees without letting them choose. So, the majority of our employees petitioned for a decertification election and now want their votes to be counted.”
“We want what our employees want. It’s sad that LAUSD allowed themselves to be used by a union that seeks to have the employees’ ballots destroyed instead of counted.”
— Staff and wire reports