Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

The Los Angeles City Council went on record Wednesday in support of a group of farm workers seeking a union contract from a Fresno grape and fruit grower which sells its produce in Los Angeles stores under the Prima label.

More than 100 workers from Gerawan Farms traveled from the Central Valley early this morning, then marched from a downtown Los Angeles church to City Hall to raise awareness about the labor dispute.

“These workers may not live in the city of Los Angeles, but the fruit they pick, you buy and eat,” said Councilman Paul Koretz, who authored a resolution to support the workers that was passed on a 12-0 vote.

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.

“Today, Gerawan farm workers ask you to stand with them against bullying in the fields,” UFW President Arturo Rodriguez told the council. “Gerawan owes its thousands of workers millions of dollars in pay raises and other benefits. Yet Gerawan fiercely resists its workers at every turn, committing some of the most flagrant labor law violations in California history.”

A lawyer representing Gerawan Farms did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Rodriguez said the company, which employs about 5,000 people, was investigated by the state, resulting in five indictments, one of which accuses the company of intimidating workers and forcing them to attend anti-union protests.

“Gerawan’s money and power, backed by a slick PR drive from Grover Norquist and the radical right, have thus far denied these workers justice in the fields,” Rodriguez alleged.

Los Angeles County Federation of Labor chief Maria Elena Durazo lent her support to the workers, as well. The City Council “has proudly stood with workers,” she said, citing the recent passage of a $15.37-an-hour minimum wage for many Los Angeles hotel workers and noting that the panel is now considering a citywide minimum wage hike to as much as $15.25 an hour.

Farmworker Rights, a group opposing the proposed United Farm Workers contract, contends many Gerawan workers actually do not want to be part of the union, and that the labor agreement would result in lower pay and fewer benefits.

“We don’t want or need the union,” a woman identified as Gerawan employee Silvia Lopez said in a statement released by the group. “We are paid the highest wages and have good benefits. The union doesn’t want to help us. Their contract will hurt us.”

The contract would result in a 3 percent pay cut for the workers, according to Farmworker Rights, which claims UFW “abandoned” the farm workers 20 years ago without negotiating a contract. The UFW then resurfaced in 2012 to demand that a contract be negotiated, but the farm workers themselves were “shut out,” according to the group’s statement.

The council “ignored the will of the real farm workers and instead just listened to people who gave their campaigns money,” Lopez is quoted in the statement as saying. “Today, the City Council chose politics over the hardworking farm workers who are fighting for our livelihoods.”

City News Service

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