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Strawberry Grower Signs Pact With UFW

Labor: New owners of Gargiulo acknowledge workers' right to organize. Fall election possible.

June 18, 1997|From Associated Press

WATSONVILLE — A major strawberry company has signed an agreement with the United Farm Workers union acknowledging that employees have the right to organize without fear or retaliation, the UFW said Tuesday.

The UFW called the accord with the new owners of Gargiulo Inc.'s berry operations a significant development in the union's effort to organize California's 20,000 strawberry workers.

The new owners have also agreed to remain neutral in any election in which workers vote whether to join the union.

Arturo Rodriguez, president of the UFW, said he hopes an election can be held by fall for the 1,500 employees of Gargiulo in the Watsonville area. The operation, the nation's largest direct employer of strawberry workers, will now be known as Coast Berry Co.

He also said the agreement could encourage other growers to take similar steps.

Gargiulo, with local headquarters in Watsonville, plants, picks, processes and markets strawberries and raspberries in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. It was owned by Calgene Corp. of Davis, which is owned by Monsanto Corp. of St. Louis. Washington investors Landon Butler and David Gladstone then bought Gargiulo's strawberry operations, according to the UFW and Monsanto.

The UFW is in the second year of its campaign to organize strawberry workers, who the union says are among the lowest-paid of all agricultural workers and often labor under harsh, unsafe conditions.

Rodriguez has said the UFW will call for elections only if workers feel they can vote without risking their jobs. State law guarantees agricultural workers the right to organize, but the UFW said an additional commitment from growers was necessary. Growers previously plowed under strawberry crops when pickers voted to support the UFW, the union has said.

The UFW will ask Coast Berry workers to vote whether they want the union to represent them, Rodriguez said. Butler told the Pajaronian newspaper of Watsonville that the UFW was not involved in the company's sale.

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