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Ventura County

Pictsweet Told to Rehire UFW Supporter

June 06, 2002|FRED ALVAREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A state labor board Wednesday upheld a judge's decision that the Pictsweet Mushroom Farm in Ventura illegally fired a mushroom picker who was engaged in organizing activities for the United Farm Workers union.

In a 27-page ruling, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board ordered Pictsweet to offer Fidel Andrade his job back and reimburse him for lost wages. Andrade, 44, an ardent UFW supporter, was fired in May 2001 from his job of nine years after company officials accused him of pushing a foreman.

Administrative Law Judge Douglas Gallop, however, ruled earlier this year that Andrade's firing violated a provision of state law that prohibits agricultural employers from interfering with union organizing activities.

The labor board, established by state law in 1975 to referee farm labor disputes and oversee union elections, backed that decision.

"The record supports the conclusion that absent his union and other protected concerted activities, Andrade's altercation ... may have resulted in some lesser form of discipline," the labor board concluded. "It is apparent that management seized on the incident as an opportunity to rid itself of a [pro-union] employee."

Pictsweet and the UFW have been locked in a protracted labor dispute over wages and benefits. Company officials, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, can challenge the ruling in appellate court.

Barbara Macri-Ortiz, an Oxnard attorney representing the UFW in negotiations, said the board's order is a boon to the union's two-year push for a new contract. To press the issue, the UFW has launched a campaign to persuade supermarket chains, restaurants and retailers to boycott Pictsweet products.

"It returns a leader back to the plant and shows the work force that there is a law, assuming [the company] abides by it," Macri-Ortiz said. "And I think it validates what we've been saying all along: This is a very anti-union company that will do anything to try to squelch the legitimate desires of the work force."

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