As UFW union activists pull another publicity stunt in an attempt to draw Starbucks into their war against Washington's dairy community, farming and farmworker advocates are calling out the false accusations and awful hypocrisy this politically-motivated group is engaged in.
Protect Farmworkers Now's parent organization Save Family Farming is reaching out to the Seattle-based coffee giant with this message to their board of directors:
March 19, 2019
Dear Mr. Ullman and Board of Directors:
We are writing to you on behalf of family farmers across Washington state who are deeply concerned about the ruthless campaign being conducted against our dairy community by United Farm Workers. As part of their strategy of false accusations, intimidation and bullying, they are attempting to cause damage to the stellar reputation of Starbucks, in the hopes that Starbucks in turn will pressure our dairy farmers into agreeing to UFW’s demands to unionize our employees.
Washington state’s approximately 375 dairy farmers are major contributors to our state’s economy and our local communities, while providing high quality dairy products for local, national and international customers. Dairy is the state’s second largest agricultural product after apples. We hire approximately 6,000 employees directly on our farms and a great many more indirectly through farm support organizations and distribution channel.
United Farm Workers is in a desperate battle for survival and relevance. In 2018, after five years of UFW blocking union workers’ votes from being counted, members of the union at Gerawan Farming in California voted nearly ten to one to leave UFW. This reduced the number of farm workers in California represented by UFW to fewer than one percent.
This followed a long series of news stories that revealed the union leaders have strayed far from the honorable path of their founder, Cesar Chavez. A few examples:
In 2013, UFW employees, tired of how UFW leaders were treating them, worked to organize and form a union of UFW employees. The organization responded by threats, intimidation, retaliatory firings and a restraining order preventing them from organizing. One protesting UFW employee, speaking about the leadership said, “They no longer care about the worker; they are blinded by greed and power.”
In 2014, approximately 160 UFW employees filed suit against the union for unpaid overtime and rest breaks. In March 2018, the judge ordered UFW to pay the employees $1.2 million. The lead plaintiff, UFW employee Francisco Cerritos said, “[The UFW] lost the vision that Cesar [Chavez] had created. They get paid and all they think about is money. Cesar [Chavez] was not getting paid.”
In 2014, a former UFW employee, La Stephanie, wrote a detailed account of her employment with the union. She complained of overt homophobic language, gender discrimination and hostility in the workplace. She wrote: “Ultimately, I cut my time at the union short because I couldn’t take it anymore. Being in the UFW was reminiscent of being back in an abusive home. As a child survivor of domestic violence, I make no qualms about calling abusive behavior out and my supervisor was ill-equipped to handle strong women. If you didn’t play the docile, well-behaved woman, it was as if you were speaking a language he didn’t understand.”
In October 2016, former Cesar Chavez Foundation communications executive, Jessica Estrella, filed suit against the foundation and the son of its founder, Paul Chavez, alleging she was fired for complaining about harassment and discrimination in the workplace. The lawsuit also revealed deep divides within the organization including tension between Paul Chavez and UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta. According to news reports, CCF’s management team referred to the UFW co-founder and famed civil rights activist “in gross, sexist terms when [Estrella] asked if Huerta could be included in meetings.”
In December 2017, the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, the same state agency that for five years prevented tallying the votes decertifying the union, ruled that UFW seriously violated labor laws by preventing anti-UFW activists from attending an agency hearing. “The UFW’s ‘virtual blockading’ of anti-UFW workers from an ALRB hearing is a very serious unfair labor practice,” said ALRB Principal Administrative Law Judge Mark R. Soble.
UFW through the Cesar Chavez Foundation runs an extensive network of Spanish language radio stations. While a several are for-profit stations, one is operated as a public radio station, with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Taxpayers paid the station, KUFW, $1.2 million dollars for its operations which, as a public radio station, prevented it from legally receiving funds from advertising. However, the Foundation repeatedly violated the terms of this contract and operated as a for-profit station. “The FCC knows a lot about KUFW’s revenue-generating activities,” attorney David A. Schwarz wrote in the Weekly Standard. “Over the last two decades, KUFW and its parent network, Radio Campesina, have been admonished or fined five times by the FCC for airing advertisements ‘that were clearly aimed at inducing the purchase of goods or services from several for-profit entities,’ as distinguished from the public service announcements that non-commercial stations can run.”
While the facts are in dispute in the current litigation between one dairy farm and the UFW, the court records show that farm employees not aligning with the union have stated on the record that union supporters intentionally stabbed cows, made death threats against workers who refused to align with the union and harassed and intimidated them. The wife of the farmer also received a death threat in a voice message included in a report filed with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.
The farm worker union created by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta did much to address abuses of workers. Today, farm workers are protected by likely the most stringent worker protection laws and regulations affecting any category of worker. Do all Starbucks employees take their breaks at rigorously enforced times? That’s what our farms are strictly required to do, and one Western Washington berry farm was fined by the Department of Labor & Industries nearly $150,000 simply for a few late rest and meal breaks. The Department noted that the severity of the fine was determined by “publicity.” This publicity was generated by a competing farm worker union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia. The vicious, dishonest campaign conducted by UFW demonstrates that competition between rival unions lies behind much of their desperate effort to demean our farmers.
United Farm Workers leaders are very well paid. The communications executive for the Foundation was paid $130,000 in 2015, prior to being fired and filing action against the union. This suggests that the senior leaders are likely paid even more. Their traditional base of income -- taken from farm workers’ paychecks -- has declined to one tenth of what it had been. Even their efforts to cheat taxpayers by running paid advertising on a taxpayer supported radio station is apparently insufficient to provide the salaries and perks the leaders are paid. Their claims about looking out for workers’ interests rings very hollow in the face of the effort of their own employees to form a separate union, the court affirming the $1.2 million in back pay they owed their employees, the sexual harassment and gender bias litigation against them and the documented record of intimidating and retaliating against their own employees. We ask: is it possible to demonstrate greater hypocrisy?
Our purpose in providing this information to you is to inform you that family farmers across the state of Washington are not going to allow UFW to continue to spread lies and distortions about farmers and our treatment of our valued employees. We will not allow their tactics of intimidation, media manipulation and pressure on respected brands to stand. Our board, representing a cross section of large and small farmers of various types across the state, has made it clear that UFW’s campaign of terror against dairy farms must be confronted. Those elected officials in our cities, far from our farms who have naively bought into the idea that farmers harbor slaves and indentured servants and engage in human trafficking will be held accountable for supporting an organization that seeks only to extract the hard-earned wages of farm workers.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Protect Farmworkers Now, a project of Washington state farming advocacy group Save Family Farming, continues to push back against labor activists' false accusations by exposing the harm these strong-arm tactics are causing the same farmworkers they claim to be helping -- restricting their ability to prosper from their hard work, and even threatening their jobs.
A recent Q13 FOX Seattle report highlights the concern: an Auburn-area family farm estimates it lost $100k after it was forced to disk 20 acres of zucchini under because they couldn't find enough workers to harvest the crop. Washington farmers across the board are struggling to find the people needed to continue to operate, and our region's housing issues and high cost of living are contributing to this crisis significantly. But so is the intense pressure from labor activist groups bent on taking advantage of--and deliberately worsening--our farmworker shortage to force unionization of farmworkers, which they view as an opportunity for growth in a time when union membership is lower than it has been in decades and still falling.
In Whatcom County we saw these tactics on full display last summer when a Sumas blueberry farm was accused of "corporate murder" after a diabetic worker ran out of his medication but did not tell the farm about it until it was too late. After his tragic passing, activists from Bellingham-based labor center Community to Community Development and farmworker union Familias Unidas por la Justicia seized on the headlines to accuse the farm of causing the death, and they're still making that claim even now, months after a Washington Department of Labor and Industries investigation cleared the farm of any wrongdoing in the man's passing. The groups' predictable answer to their false crisis? They say farmworkers in Whatcom County need to unionize -- a false solution to a manufactured problem.
In particular, activists say they're standing up for the rights of H-2A guest workers, but at the same time they're calling for an end to the H-2A guest worker program, which would deny work opportunities to those same workers. Why? Activists view the the guest worker program as a roadblock to forcing unions, because of the pressure it takes off of the farmworker shortage that they're trying to leverage.
Save Family Farming's Protect Farmworkers Now Project remains on the front line of this issue. We're countering the false claims of labor activists with facts, photos and videos of the truth about how farmworkers are being treated, and we're exposing the harmful motives behind these activists' actions. We've received coverage in local and regional media outlets and have reached thousands of people with our message via our social media channels. A recent guest editorial by PFN Project Coordinator Dillon Honcoop that the Lynden Tribune published generated a string of letters to the editor, as activist sympathizers were forced on the defensive. A social campaign earlier this year to show the excellent housing and working conditions at the Sumas blueberry farm with photos and videos caused activists to defend why they had called those conditions "degraded," unhealthy and unsafe for workers--when they clearly weren't. Now we've sparked an internal investigation at Evergreen State College into their use of taxpayer-funded vehicles to support labor activists' demonstrations and union organizing activity.
The Protect Farmworkers Now Project will continue to closely monitor the situation as we go into another busy harvest season. We expect the activists to continue their organizing efforts around farms in Whatcom County, and we know that they will be prepared to use any problem--real or otherwise--to their advantage. Please be sure to follow Protect Farmworkers Now on Facebook, and read more information about our efforts at http://protectfarmworkersnow.org.
Lynden Tribune Guest Editorial by Protect Farmworkers Now project coordinator Dillon Honcoop
It’s important to tell the truth, especially when many people’s jobs and livelihoods are on the line. That’s why it’s so troubling to see activists and their sympathizers continue to spread an insidious lie in our community.
Last summer, a worker at a Sumas blueberry farm was rushed to the hospital after having run out of his medication days earlier. Honesto Silva Ibarra tragically passed away at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
An exhaustive Washington Department of Labor & Industries investigation reported that the farm was in no way responsible for Mr. Silva Ibarra’s death, but that truth is apparently an inconvenient one for activist labor groups like Bellingham-based Community to Community Development, who wanted to capitalize on news coverage of the tragedy to further their labor organizing efforts. They have falsely claimed that “degraded conditions” and management failure caused Mr. Silva Ibarra’s death, going so far as to label it “corporate murder,” and continuing to do so even after L&I’s investigation proved them wrong.
A recent letter to the Lynden Tribune from a concerned citizen perhaps inadvertently continues this pervasive lie. “A young H2A worker died due to poor working conditions and management oversight,” Naomi Murphy wrote in the letter the Tribune printed May 9th. It’s one thing to express genuine concern for the workers, it’s another to continue to make false statements when the truth is out there for all to see. Either Ms. Murphy is entirely ignorant of the facts of the tragedy, or she’s intentionally communicating false and harmful accusations.
It’s deeply troubling that activist labor groups continue to claim in interviews, social media, website posts and elsewhere that, among other mistreatment of workers, the Sumas farm caused the worker’s death. Their pressure on the Department of Labor & Industries and the publicity they generated caused the Department to issue a fine 40 times greater than one normally assessed for rest and meal break violations. It is shameful for a Department to punish a farm based on lies communicated about them, especially when they themselves determined the accusations to be lies!
The H-2A program, despite activists’ claims that it amounts to “virtual slavery,” provides some of the best worker protections anywhere, including good wages, subsidized meals and free housing and transportation. The employer has to make sure that the worker returns home after completing their work. If a worker can go from one farm to another, the employer can't be expected to pay for transportation and housing, and prevention of illegal immigration becomes impossible.
The activists seek to establish farmworker unions. It’s a free country and people can pursue whatever agenda they want. But this agenda hurts workers because it takes away jobs they very much need, hurts consumers by rapidly increasing the amount of food we import, and hurts farmers through their vicious lies and political pressure. Workers are exceptionally well protected as the massive fine against the farm for break violations shows. What other business do you know would be fined $150,000 for a few late rest or meal breaks? It’s time for those who care about these farmworkers to tell Community to Community, the activist group behind this, that enough is enough.