UFW signs historic contract at nation’s largest strawberry employer, Coastal Berry Co.
UFW’s first major stake in California strawberry industry
More than 750 pickers laboring in Ventura County for the nation’s largest strawberry employer will make history Thursday when the United Farm Workers and Coastal Berry Co. sign a landmark contract giving the UFW its first major stake in California’s strawberry industry. The contract comes after a four-year struggle by the workers to obtain union representation.
UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez will be joined by the workers’ negotiating committee and Coastal Berry Co. Chairman David Gladstone in signing this historic contract.
Rodriguez, who succeeded Chavez following the legendary UFW founder’s death in 1993, said, “The contract we sign today with Coastal Berry Co. for it’s Ventura County workforce gives the UFW it’s first major stake in California’s $600 million-a-year strawberry industry. This breakthrough agreement also makes Coastal Berry’s 750 Ventura County employees the best-paid and best-protected workers in the vastest growing strawberry-producing region in the state.”
The UFW has won 20 union elections since Rodriguez kicked off a new field organizing drive in 1994. Since then, the union has also signed 24 new–or first-time–contracts with growers in a host of crops, from roses and mushrooms to wine grapes and vegetables. In 1998, the UFW signed a contract with Swanton Berry Farms in Santa Cruz County, the state’s largest organic strawberry producer.
Who: UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez, Coastal Berry Co. Chairman David Gladstone,
strawberry workers from the Coastal Berry Co., CA AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Art
Pulaski, L.A. County Federation of Labor Executive Secretary-Treasurer Miguel
Contreras, Mayorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa and more than a dozen local
What: Signing of UFW contract with the nation’s largest employer of strawberry workers.
When: 11:30 a.m. PST, Thursday, March 8, 2001
Where: Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, 2130 James Wood Blvd. (9th st.),
Los Angeles, CA, 90006, one block West of Alvarado.
– end – REMARKS BY ARTURO S. RODRIGUEZ, PRESIDENTUNITED FARM WORKERS OF AMERICA, AFL-CIO
Coastal Berry Co. Contract Signing March 8, 2001—Los Angeles, Calif.
Today marks a historic milestone in the 39-year history of the Cesar Chavez’s union. The three-year union contract we sign today with Coastal Berry Co. for its Ventura County employees gives the United Farm Workers a major stake in California’s $600 million-a-year strawberry industry.
This breakthrough agreement with the largest employer of strawberry workers in the country also makes Coastal Berry’s 750 Ventura County employees the best-paid and best-protected workers in the fastest-growing strawberry-producing region in the state.
The road to this victory has been long and tortuous. Today’s observance is a tribute to the Ventura County workers at Coastal Berry Co. They have demonstrated what can be achieved when you are persistent, committed and when you never refuse to give up.
It is also a testament to David Gladstone, the chairman of Coastal Berry Co. We acknowledge his leadership and vision in recognizing the workers’ desire to be represented by a union and in making Coastal Berry a leader in the industry when it comes to progressive labor relations.
That vision is reflected in the contract we have negotiated.
* Coastal Berry will be paying the best wages in the Southern California strawberry industry. Under this agreement, Coastal Berry workers win a 7% pay increase—plus an increase in the piece rate.
* Employees at the company have a medical plan that covers the worker and the members of his or her entire family. Under this contract, workers receive medical, dental and prescription coverage after they work only 60 hours a month. Strawberry workers at non-union companies in the same region either have no medical coverage or they must labor for at least 500 hours to be eligible for benefits—which excludes many workers, especially berry pickers.
The contract also provides for a cost-of-living adjustment that will cover any increase in health plan costs—so workers will not have to pay out of pocket or suffer reductions in benefits.
Now the UFW challenges other strawberry growers in the Ventura County area to show the same concern for their workers by raising wages and benefits.
* A hallmark of this contract is its protections covering union seniority, discipline and discharge, and establishing a grievance and arbitration procedure. They afford strawberry workers at a major company their first meaningful guarantee of job security and safeguards against discrimination and favoritism.
As a direct result of the UFW’s four-year organizing effort among California strawberry workers, many growers have raised wages and provided some modest benefits. But recurring grievances so often cited by berry pickers transcend wages and benefits. They involve the arbitrary abuses workers endure at the hands of foremen and supervisors whose power over their livelihoods—and their lives—has been almost absolute.
Today, with these contract provisions and the cooperation of the parties, that absolute power has been checked.
There is another reason why this contract signing marks a turning point in the UFW’s struggle to change the lives of strawberry workers. Before today, berry workers heard the same story over and over again from their foremen and supervisors: ‘If you support the UFW, you will lose your job.’
Workers believed these stories—because at least the last three times strawberry pickers voted for the UFW in union elections their employers retaliated by shutting down operations and laying off the workers. The last time it happened, at VCNM Farms near Salinas in 1995, the grower also plowed under part of the crop in retaliation.
With this contract at Coastal Berry Co., strawberry workers in non-union fields in Ventura County and across the state will begin hearing a very different story: ‘Support the UFW and you can improve your life and the lives of your family.’
For the immediate future, our top priority will be turning this UFW contract into another success story. We will work hard to forge a functioning partnership between the UFW, the workers and the company that promises continued profitability and prosperity for both the workers and their employer. That is our pledge today.
We are very optimistic about our future with Coastal Berry. This company is successful—and expanding. It grew from 300 workers to 750 employees in just the last two years. It has purchased its own farmland to grow strawberries in Ventura County—in contrast to the practice by most growers who lease their land in Northern California. We are excited that Coastal Berry is preparing to provide more work for UFW members by planting a second crop during the harvest season in Ventura County.
For our part, the UFW will be using every opportunity to encourage our many supporters throughout the country to purchase Coastal Berry strawberries. Consumers who champion the UFW will be delighted to see the union’s distinctive black eagle symbol on each container of Coastal Berry strawberries in supermarkets across America. We appeal to all those who care about justice for farm workers to ask for Coastal Berry strawberries in stores, hotels and restaurants.
– end –
Contract Highlights for Coastal Berry Co. LLC
- Scope: All agricultural workers of the Employer in the county of Ventura
- Layoffs and recalls shall be in order of seniority
– Before based on ability skills and disciplinary records (with the worker with the least disciplinary notices being hired first).
GRIEVEANCE AND ARBITRATION PROCEDURE
- All disputes which arise between the company and the Union shall be subject to the Grievance Procedure.
- Provides for binding arbitration
DISCIPLINE AND DISCHARGE
- For just cause only.
LEAVES OF ABSENCE
- Medical leave
- Family Care
- School visits
- Union Leave
- Six (6) paid holidays
- Medical coverage covers the entire family.
- Only 60 hours to qualify for benefits.
- Includes dental, medical, and prescriptions.
- In the 3-year duration of the contract the work force will receive a 7% increase.
- Three (3) years.