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Gallo Workers Seek to Cut Ties to UFW

Union officials allege the winery pressured field hands, a charge the company denies.

March 11, 2003|Lee Romney | Times Staff Writer

The UFW recently won a vote to represent strawberry growers at Coastal Berry in Watsonville, Calif. -- one of eight organizing victories over the last year.

"I don't view this as a big black mark that's going to stop this union's momentum," said Peter Olney, associate director of the University of California's Institute for Labor and Employment.

However, farm industry critics allege that the union has overstated its membership for years and that it is a shadow of its former self. Last year, in response to a Department of Labor inquiry, UFW officials amended membership figures to 5,945 -- from 27,000, well below its peak of 80,000 in 1973. The union says the smaller number is misleading because it represents only workers under contract at the end of 2001 -- the low ebb of the California growing season.

Rob Roy, general counsel for the Ventura County Agricultural Assn. and a vocal union critic, said the Gallo decertification effort is telling and comes on the heels of a steady trickle of other decertification efforts. (Grossman disagreed, calling such petitions rare.)

"The UFW has a lot of political clout with legislators, but I think they lack a real nexus with the farmworkers," Roy said. "It's not going to be a major setback for the UFW, but certainly it will be a symbolic loss for them because they made such a big issue out of going after Gallo."

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