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Farm Union Goes Online to Launch Boycott of Gallo Wine

June 15, 2005|Miriam Pawel | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — The United Farm Workers launched "a viral boycott" Tuesday against Gallo wines, employing strong rhetoric in the hopes of generating public support for a Web-based campaign to win a more generous contract.

Hours later, state officials who regulate union activity in the fields charged that the UFW has failed to bargain in good faith since its contract at Gallo of Sonoma expired in November 2003.

The two actions underscored the tension between the union and the company, historic adversaries with political as well as economic stakes in the outcome of their current conflict.

The UFW plans to call on sympathetic groups to stop buying all Gallo wines to pressure the wine-making giant to negotiate higher pay and benefits for about 85 Gallo employees and 200 seasonal workers Gallo hires through labor contractors.

"Today, a viral campaign began against Gallo," UFW President Arturo Rodriguez told a crowd of about 200 gathered on the steps of City Hall, saying Gallo has mistreated workers and allowed them to live in poor conditions. "We are launching into cyberspace the news stories on living conditions and the invitation for people of goodwill to join our boycott."

Rodriguez said later that union leaders hope to enlist the support of groups such as the left-leaning moveon.org, Working Assets and Union Voice, but he said they have not had those discussions yet.

For the union, which has a fraction of the contracts it once had, the contract with Gallo of Sonoma, a subsidiary of E&J Gallo Winery, is important symbolically as well as practically. The dispute is being watched carefully by other agricultural companies; Gallo, one of the largest wineries in the world, could help determine the future of farmworker contracts.

Antonio Campa, who has worked for Gallo for 26 years and is an elected UFW representative, called Gallo a wealthy company that has denied even modest increases to its workers. "The company has left us no other option than to call a national boycott," he said.

Gallo said in a statement that it believed the boycott would hurt workers and that the company is eager to reach agreement.

Gallo spokesman John Segale said the state complaint, issued in response to charges Gallo made last November, vindicates the company's contention that the union has stalled negotiations.

Freddie Capuyan, Salinas regional director of the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board, said his independent investigation of Gallo's charges confirmed that the union had not been negotiating in good faith. The complaint lists specific violations, such as the UFW's failure to respond to requests from Gallo for information and its violation of agreed-on ground rules, in part by commenting publicly.

"It's the totality of the conduct," Capuyan said. "It's not one thing, it's everything."

Union officials called the complaint baseless and the timing suspicious, designed to interfere with the boycott. Capuyan said that it was a coincidence.

The state's finding is the fourth such complaint it has issued since the contract between Gallo and the UFW expired.

The union and Gallo negotiators are scheduled to meet next Tuesday. Much of the dispute centers on benefits for contract employees, who did not receive health benefits or vacation under the last contract.

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