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Strawberry companies charged w/massive conspiracy to commit fraud through front group

For Release:
August 8, 1997,

Charges to be filed Friday

Strawberry companies charged with
massive conspiracy to commit fraud through
front group that threatens violence

At least four strawberry companies have conspired to defraud, deceive and coerce strawberry workers through a front group called the Agricultural Workers of America, according to charges to be filed Friday with the state of California.

Details of the case will be released at news conferences Friday, Aug. 8 in Salinas, Calif, and Watsonville, Calif. Workers, community leaders, clergy and UFW officials will also be available.

SALINAS: 11:30 a.m. Friday1 Aug 8, United Farm Workers office, 14 Wood St. (off John Street exit of Highway 101).

WATSONVILLE: 1:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 8, United Farm Workers office, 519 Main St. (corner of Lake — Plaza La Manzana).

While the AWA presents itself as a worker organization, the charges allege that it was created by strawberry companies and serves as an agent for the companies to crush workers who are joining together in union to improve their lives and working conditions.

The charges allege that through the AWA the companies have threatened violence, forced workers into participating in anti-union activities, threatened workers with retaliation if they did not participate in such activities and systematically conducted surveillance of workers, as well as other violations of law.

Alleged illegal activities of the AWA at a glance
August 8, 1991

* Since at least June 1 1996 a group called the Agricultural Workers of America (also known as the Pro-Worker Committee, Agricultural Workers Committee) has engaged in illegal activity at the direction of several strawberry companies. The activity is designed to crush the union organizing efforts of 15,000 Central Coast strawberry and raspberry workers.

*Based on sworn declarations, the companies and AWA have used economic, physical and psychological coercion. The companies include Driscoll grower Clint Miller Farms, Well-Pict grower Dutra Farms, Watsonville Berry Co-op, grower Miguel Ramos Farms and Berry Chill grower EKT Farms.

* The AWA was created by a handful of strawberry growers and their supervisors on or about June 1,1996. Among the key players:

* HEALO YEPEZ, the general supervisor for Dutra Farms. Yepez is accused of directing the AWA and of being a key organizer in a 1996 march against the United Farm Workers and in a planned march this year against pro-union workers. Yepez has misrepresented his background to the public, indicating he has been a rank-and-file strawberry worker for 16 years. In fact, he has long been the highest ranking supervisor; in addition Dutra grows raspberries, not strawberries. MIGUEL RAMOS, a strawberry grower for more than a decade. He has participated in anti-union videos and has publicly supported the AWA. Ramos’ brother, ANTONIO PEREZ, has been the supervisor at Miguel Ramos Farms for 10 years. Perez has presented himself to the public as a strawberry worker on several occasions. When pressured during a radio call-in show, Perez acknowledged he was not a rankand-file worker. He now works full time for AWA.

* Employers of strawberry workers, through the AWA, have engaged in illegal activities to forcibly recruit workers including: harassing those who disagree with them, paying employee agents, soliciting funds, using threats of violence, systematically spying on union supporters and keeping lists of union supporters.

* For example, on July 23,1997, Yepez and others appeared at a Santa Cruz, Calif., event with pro-union workers. People acting as agents of Dutra, Clint Miller, EKT and Miguel Ramos Farms placed themselves in a threatening manner in front of where the event was held and the pro-union workers were physically trapped in the building. And in July 1996, Dutra Farms orchestrated an event in which union organizers were physically constrained and threatened.


Working Press Only: For complete filing call (408) 763-4933 or e-mail

Faces behind AWA

Antonio Perez:

General supervisor at brother’s ranch, Miguel Ramos Farms, for the last 10 years. Currently spokesperson for AWA.

Healo Yepez:

General Supervisor for Dutra Farms. Accused of directing AWA. Videotapes workers.

Lupe Sanchez:

Irrigator at Dutra Farms. Self-described President of AWA.

Bertha Fernandez:

Puncher at Clint Miller Farms. Reported to be married to Guadalupe Fernandez, foreman at Clint Miller Farms. Self-described Vice-President of AWA. Member of another grower front group, Strawberry Workers and Farmers Alliance.