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September 2007
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United Farm Workers and Beef Northwest follow-up

Earlier this week, I had a conversation with John Wilson, one of the family owners of Beef Northwest. In response to my initial entry on the efforts of their employees to unionize, the business had posted a thorough FAQ on their website; this addresses both the history of the negotiations with UFW and claims made by workers regarding working conditions and the ingredients of cattle feed from Beef NW’s point of view.

Clearly, there are competing accounts of what is at stake; in fact, it was the lack of information online about the nature of the issues that piqued my interest in the first place. I’d still like to see more detailed information about the precise grievances of the workers be available because it really does matter to me that my comfort and conveniences not be tied to someone else’s suffering.

Wilson said that Beef NW is not aware of specific grievances from workers and reported that, contrary to UFW claims, Beef NW provides break rooms, toilets, and water–including bottled water–for their workers. Additionally, he denied that the company had attempted to influence workers during the negotiations process. Hearing his perspective on the lack of dialog with the union, I asked whether they had proposed that a neutral third party become involved in the negotiations in order to facilitate clearer communication; according to Wilson, Beef NW proposed exactly such a step, which was opposed by the UFW and led to the breaking off of negotiations.

Approximately 70% of Beef NW’s employees are Latino; I doubt that many of them have their own blogs, and if I had to extrapolate from my own experience with Oregon’s Latino farmworker population, I’d guess that a significant number of them haven’t had the educational advantages I take for granted. That’s to say, their PR position, compared to that of Beef NW, is tenuous. I’m really glad to see Beef NW’s willingness to engage with the questions I’ve raised.* I’m also aware that simply being able to get a message out has a lot of power in shaping the discourse around an issue.

Overall, I have two observations to make: one is that legislation is definitely needed to provide guidelines for labor relations in the agricultural sector. Such legislation would provide a clear path for employers, especially family businesses with no experience with unions, to follow, and might clarify processes for workers deciding on whether they needed union representation.

The second is that being an informed consumer is so difficult as to be nearly impossible. If one tiny part of my diet, beef that I purchase no more than once a month, has so much information attached to it, how can I even begin to know the stories behind all the other food?

Discuss.

*Tangentially, I’m also really glad to see that some sloppy descriptions of the cattles’ diets on distributors’ sites have been corrected. For the record, neither Beef NW nor Oregon Country Beef made claims about their beef being entirely grass-fed; those claims were elsewhere.

Comments

Comment from Anthony Raimondo
Time: September 9, 2007, 5:07 pm

As you examine this dispute, you should learn more about the recent history of the UFW, which may be the most corrupt and dishonest unoin in the nation. Workers at Gallo and Richards Grove and Saralee Vineyard recently voted to decertify the UFW, and the California ALRB recently ruled thet the UFW violated worker rights. An excellent seried in the LA Times by Miriam Pawel revealed how the UFW has tragically exploited the legacy of Cesar Chavez for profit while doing little or nothing for farm workers. Now the UFW is trying to deprive workers of their right to vote on unionization because of the union’s dismal record in elections. Look up what happened at Guy Chaddock of Bakersfield, a family owned business that brought skilled good paying jobs to an economically depressed area. The company did not oppose UFW representation, and the union drove them out of business. Do some research before you believe the UFW (or me) but you will find that what I say is true.

Comment from Christine
Time: September 9, 2007, 6:04 pm

For context on Anthony’s comment, I wanted to mention that his law firm specializes in “keeping [their] clients union free.” That grain of salt in mind, the first article of the series he mentions is certainly interesting. Still, straw man.

Comment from Christine
Time: September 9, 2007, 6:19 pm

Also, see California Attorney General’s report on their investigation of the allegations against the UFW in the LA Times series here.

Comment from Anthony Raimondo
Time: September 9, 2007, 7:28 pm

You notice that I have made no effort to conceal who I am or what I do, which I could have done. I willingly included my website and business email in the post in the interest of disclosure and honesty. Because of my business, I have become very acquainted with the UFW’s corruption and lack of integrity. But as I said in my original post, DO NOT take my word for it. Do your homework, and you will see that the union does not serve the interests of the workers, it serves its own. The Attorney General investigation was very limited and addressed only specific laws concerning nonprofit and charitable organizations. It certainly did not address the bigger issues or the core facts presented in the Times series. As the AG said in the letter you posted, “Although there were numerous allegations of wrongdoing, not all of the allegations involved public benefit corporations, nor did they involve charitable trust issues. Our investigation focused only on potential violations of charitable trust and nonprofit corporation laws.”

Voting control on the UFW’s web of nonprofits is consolidated in few hands, primarily Cesar Chavez’s family members. This is not technically illegal, but it is generally frowned upon by watchdog groups.

You should take a look at the Bakersfield Californian series from 2004 as well. According to that series, the UFW’s political work isn’t always focused on
improving the workplace. In California’s 2001-2002 legislative session, less than half of the bills lobbied by the UFW had anything to do with labor.
The UFW paid its consultant lobbyists $336,000 during that legislative session.

“They know it’s wrong. They know they can’t stand public scrutiny on it, they’re dealing with very large sums of money. The quality of whoever’s running it and whoever’s on the board should be scrutinized. They have to be beyond reproach.” (James Lorenz, an Oakland attorney and longtime UFW observer. He founded California Rural Legal Assistance in 1966. (Reported in the Bakersfield Californian May 9, 2004)

Look at how many workers have voted to get rid of the UFW after living under the “benefits” of a UFW contract. Last year, the UFW touted the signing of its Gallo contract, but this year the workers voted out the union, and some were quoted as saying that they did not get their money’s worth for the mandatory dues.

In fact, the moves taken by the UFW to put Guy Chaddock out of business occurred after the workers fought for 2 years to get rid of the union. When Chaddock went under, Bakersfield TV station KGET quoted worker Veronica Cobian, who said “We think it was the union that did this.” By the way, Chaddock was growing and meeting targets for local hiring set forth in its public financing arrangement until the union came in, after which the health of the company declined, as did the size of the workforce.

From 1993 to 1995 the union promoted a boycott of Safeway for selling table grapes and strawberries, while the UFW pension plan had $340,000
invested in Safeway! During the same period, the UFW invested hundreds of thousands of farm worker dollars in companies that make the pesticides that the UFW claimed were a threat to worker health! The UFW pension plan has also invested in companies like Nike and Wal-
Mart, who are hardly friendly to workers.

PBS produced a documentary that included an interview with Francisco Alcazar, a strawberry worker targeted and blacklisted by the UFW because he spokde out agains the union.

In 2001, over a hundred farm workers lost their jobs at Coastal Berry Company when the UFW demanded that the company fire them after they objected to mandatory UFW dues. According to the workers, the UFW never told them that that they had the right to object to the amount of the dues. In 2004, the UFW agreed to pay $105,000 to the workers to settle the case.

As you know, I am clearly on a side of these issues that opposes the union. I have spared you my anecdotal evidence about the union’s corruption, because I do not expect to believe. But that does not change the fact that the UFW lies to the workers, spends their money on things that they may not want, and ignores their needs once the contract is signed and the dues money comes in. Everything in this post is verifiable by independent sources. The UFW has twice been found by the ALRB to have failed to comply with rules requiring the union to disclose and account for how dues dollars are spent.

Don’t believe me blindly, but don’t believe the union blindly just because of the memory of Cesar Chavez. If you look into it, you will find that this union is not what it appears to be. Despite what I do for a living, I will be the first to admit that there are good unions out there that are committed to representation of their members, the UFW is just not one of them.

Comment from Anthony Raimondo
Time: September 9, 2007, 7:44 pm

[Irrelevant and misinformed accusation removed by blog owner.]

Comment from Christine
Time: September 9, 2007, 8:08 pm

The “straw man” argument observation refers to the commenter’s attempt to turn a conversation about what is happening in a specific situation with Oregon farm workers, a union, and an Oregon business into one that focuses on accusations against UFW. I posted links to a bit of the material to which he refers, in effect doing preliminary work for people who may be interested.

His second comment was followed by an ad hominem attack which I removed because it was false and childish. Still, I leave the semi-relevant claims he made up because, as I previously said, they lead to interesting information. Enjoy.