The UFW has organized only 1 percent of farmworkers in California and is deficient in many ways. Yet it’s moving its operations offshore to Mexico and Central America to organize cheap labor for big business like Costco. Farmworkers are being sold out.
What about the other 99 percent?
With its membership just a fraction of what it was and almost no organizing in California fields, the United Farm Workers has begun moving its operations offshore to provide its partner Costco with cheap labor.
The union that César Chávez founded represents only one percent of California farmworkers today. That’s hardly enough for the UFW to claim that it represents the families who labor in California fields.
The other 99 percent of California farmworkers either remain without badly needed union support, or decided that they’re better off without the UFW. Some have created their own unions or joined different ones. Others have voted to de-certify the UFW – but neither the UFW nor the state will allow their votes to be counted. Yet the UFW and the Sacramento political establishment claim that the legendary union speaks for all.
UFW moves offshore as it gets closer to Big Business
As it moves its organizing operations to foreign countries like Mexico and Nicaragua – boasting that it will raise worker pay to a “dignified wage” of $7.50 a day – the UFW is also getting closer to Big Business. The UFW now has a partnership with warehouse discounter Costco, and has received endorsements from the likes of AT&T and Chevron. UFW broke with the principled Bernie Sanders and sided with Wall Street establishment figure Hillary Clinton in the California primary. How do the workers benefit?
With both feet planted firmly in Sacramento’s big money political establishment, it looks like the UFW leadership views itself as part of the Wall Street one percent, leaving the metaphorical 99 percent – even renting stretch limousines to ferry its leaders around places like Bakersfield.
By virtually ending its organizing in the United States and moving offshore, the UFW ensures endless low-wage produce for big business like Costco.
Doing nothing as workers lose their jobs
Union organizing in California fields “has completely disappeared,” according to state Agricultural Labor Relations Board Chairman William Gould. Earlier this year, the UFW couldn’t save the jobs of nearly 2,400 farmworkers whom it had claimed to represent, doing nothing even though it knew long in advance that the jobs were endangered. The union didn’t even offer a financial cushion for its people whom it knew would lose their jobs.
And the UFW hasn’t said a word as robotic technology begins to replace farmworkers to harvest and pack crops.
UFW claims to back $15 minimum wage, but workers will have to wait until 2022
The UFW used its pull to have the state enact a $15 per hour minimum wage in California, but it can’t seem to negotiate better than a $9 hourly wage for its own members in the Central Valley. Just ask the UFW members at San Joaquin Tomato, Pacific Triple-E, and Papagni Farms. Their take-home pay, after the UFW receives its cut, is below minimum wage.
Earlier this year, the UFW agreed to the state delaying a minimum wage hike up to $11 an hour until 2018, even though thousands of non-union farmworkers earn more than that already. UFW agreed not to push for the $15 minimum wage to kick in until the year 2022, forcing its members to wait for years.
UFW pushed for overtime, but ignored worker requests to protect their hours
In pushing for AB1066, to ensure overtime pay for seasonal farmworkers, the UFW achieved its mission – but it was only a headline victory. The big issue at hand were concerns by both farmers and workers that the legislation, to require employers to pay overtime after 8 hours per day, would cost employees the extra 2 or more hours a day they would work during peak season.
The logic was this: Due to the irregularities of hours for many farmworkers due to the agricultural cycle, the workers would not be able to work extra during peak season because mandated overtime would be too costly for many employers. So many employers would reduce their workers’ hours in order not to pay overtime. Lost hours means lost wages.
Pick Justice argued that AB1066 should contain a provision to prevent employers from reducing worker hours in order to avoid paying overtime.
But the United Farm Workers union did not want to include that provision to protect the workers. It wanted the headlines to show that it could ram legislation through the state assembly, whether or not it would actually protect the people in the fields.
UFW pays millions to lobbyists & politicians, nothing for its members
The UFW spends almost $4,000,000 a year on lobbyists, lawyers, and politicians, yet has ZERO invested in a strike fund for its dues-paying members. In exchange for taking 3 percent of each member worker’s salary as dues, the UFW promises, well, practically nothing.
In turn, the state political establishment and UFW operate as their own cartel. The state-and-UFW capos push aside independent unions like Familias Unidas por la Justicia, and disenfranchise independent workers who don’t want UFW representation or state control.
Individual state regulators who try to force UFW contracts on workers give campaign cash to the very lawmakers who empower their agencies. Senate President Kevin de Leon told the UFW in May that workers should earn $10 an hour, as UFW leaders cheered.
State regulators on the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) attend UFW gala events, but won’t show the same level of support for other unions. ALRB even hires UFW activists to serve on its enforcement staff, but won’t hire activists from non-UFW unions.
Political establishment cartel
The ALRB is spending millions to prevent workers ballots from being counted – votes cast in 2013 to decertify the UFW as their representatives. It has spent $10,000,000 to prevent the vote-counting so far – money that could have been spent to provide homeless workers with housing. All to protect the UFW.
Yet somehow, the UFW still isn’t out there organizing in the fields the way it once was. And it certainly isn’t serving in the spirit of César Chávez.
UFW members have been paying the salary of UFW President Arturo Rodriguez for 44 years. Arturo is now a proud member of the political Establishment. What has he done to continue to deserve UFW members’ sacrifice?
[This article is adapted from our piece that ran today on IndyBay.org.]