State labor officials have accused the United Farm Workers union of forcing the dismissal of Oxnard strawberry pickers because they refused to join the labor organization.
The complaint, issued last week by lawyers for the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, stems from charges filed in 2001 by the National Right to Work Foundation on behalf of workers at the Coastal Berry Co., the nation's largest strawberry grower.
It alleges that UFW officials failed to tell workers that they could object to paying full dues after the union won the right in May 2000 to represent more than 700 employees at the company's Ventura County operation. The complaint further alleges that a UFW official asked the grower to fire employees who refused to pay union dues.
UFW officials dispute the allegations, saying the union has complied with all provisions of California's Agricultural Labor Relations Act in negotiating and enforcing its contract at Coastal Berry.
The complaint identifies nine of the dismissed workers, although the foundation contends that more than 100 others also lost jobs.
The complaint seeks to force the UFW to provide back pay to workers who were unlawfully discharged and to compel the union to ask Coastal Berry to rehire those harvesters.
"These employees felt so strongly about [refusing to] join and support the UFW that they were willing to be fired rather than be bullied by the union," said Stefan Gleason, vice president for the Virginia-based foundation, which seeks to end compulsory union membership. "We are pleased that [the labor board] has issued a complaint, but we wish it had acted much more quickly."
Federal law affords workers the right to object to union membership and to pay only that portion of union dues that covers representational costs such as collective bargaining and contract administration. But UFW spokesman Marc Grossman said California's farm labor law provided a much stronger union security provision, allowing parties to make a contract requiring union membership as a condition of employment.