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By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
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By Jill Stewart
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Leal’s brother is Enrique Leal, production manager of several Watsonville properties, including the Beach Ranch, where the anti-UFW violence took place last year. Sergio Leal was himself fired by Coastal Berry in January. He said the company had accused him of harassing other workers, and threatening to drive the company out of business if it signed a contract with the UFW. Company president Ernest Farley wouldn’t comment on the firing.
The committee’s attorney doesn’t seem to be the typical union lawyer, either. Representing the committee during this year’s election was Salinas attorney James Gumberg. According to Mike Johnston, an official of Teamsters Union Local 890 in Salinas, Gumberg has represented growers and packers in negotiations. "He’s definitely a management-side lawyer, and those people don’t switch sides," Johnston said.
"This guy’s from the ranchers," Leal confirmed in an interview. "He works for us for free."
Gumberg denied he was being paid for his work for the committee by other growers. "That’s absurd," he said. But when told that Leal said the committee wasn’t paying him, Gumberg admitted that "for the most part, it’s true," though he also noted that "my work’s just starting." Gumberg said he had never represented a union before, but had undergone a change of heart. "I thought [the committee members] were worthy and being oppressed," he explained.
When asked if the ALRB should have tried to determine whether the committee was a genuine union before putting it on the ballot this year, board general counsel Paul Richardson, a Pete Wilson appointee, said the UFW could file unfair labor practice charges, or object to the election results. Both processes, however, involve investigations only after workers have voted.
The ALRB also ignored the fact that the committee never filed forms required by the U.S. Department of Labor which detail a union’s sources of income and the salaries of its officers. Marvin Brenner, assistant general counsel for the ALRB’s Salinas office, said simply, "I don’t think the state looks at federal requirements."
UFW organizers believed the sale of Coastal Berry to a neutral owner would guarantee workers the ability to vote freely, without fear of retaliation. But with the sale, the UFW also altered its in-the-field strategy of organizing workers around demands for immediate improvements in conditions, which has won the union a succession of contracts in other companies.
At Coastal Berry, however, neutrality on top and election campaigning at the bottom didn’t create enough organized strength among workers in the crews to fight the vehemently anti-UFW foremen — who were themselves seeking to curry favor and leverage with other major growers — or to stop the committee. Perhaps no pledge of neutrality by management can guarantee rights for workers which they aren’t strong enough to win on the ground. Whatever the outcome of any official investigation of the committee, the UFW has learned a bitter lesson.</P