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State of California accuses Premiere Raspberries of breaking the law after its 500 workers voted for UFW

Now company refuses to negotiate a union contract with its workers

State prosecutors filed four official complaints—tantamount to indictments—during December and January against Watsonville-based Premiere Raspberries LCC after its more than 500 workers voted for the United Farm Workers in a state-conducted election and the Agricultural Labor Relations Board dismissed the company’s objections to the August 9, 2017 election. Last week the large raspberry producer announced it is refusing to negotiate with the UFW for a union contract while it appeals the ALRB’s rejection of its election objections, prompting the union to file further charges against the company with the state.

“Premiere Raspberries has been accused by state prosecutors of multiple and serious violations of the law, said UFW Vice President Lauro Barajas, the union’s Central Coast regional director. “It has video-recorded workers supporting the union at an event in San Francisco and then used the videotapes to interrogate them in the fields. It has blocked workers from speaking with union organizers in the fields. It has made illegal threats. Now Premiere Raspberries is outright refusing to negotiate with its workers over terms of the union contract they voted for last August, attempting to further drag out the process.”

Anticipating the company will fail in its appeal of the ALRB ruling dismissing the election objections, Barajas said the union filed additional charges invoking the state law’s “make whole” remedy. It provides workers with the difference between what they would have earned under a union contract and what they did receive without one when growers refuse to bargain.

The following highlights the four complaints filed by or on behalf of Julia Montgomery, ALRB general counsel or chief prosecutor, following investigations by ALRB agents and agency attorneys. The highlights feature direct quotes from the complaints along with page numbers. The full texts of the complaints can be accessed through the supplied hyperlinks.

  • ALRB General Counsel complaint issued on January 9, 2018:

“On September 5, 2017,” the month after their election victory, “approximately ten agricultural employees from Premiere Raspberries” joined hundreds of union members attending a hearing before the California Supreme Court at the high court’s building in San Francisco “to show their support for the UFW. [Premiere Raspberries Supervisor Francisco] Cerritos was present in front of the building…yelling, in Spanish, ‘the Union Out’ and ‘thieves out’ at UFW supporters dressed in red t-shirts, including Premiere Raspberries agricultural workers [Page 2]”

“Cerritos used his cell phone to record multiple videos of UFW supporters…including Premiere Raspberries agricultural employees…Cerritos closely observed Premiere Raspberries agricultural workers…[P. 3]

“Cerritos shared his videos of the UFW supporters, including Premiere Raspberries employees, with supervisors and forepersons at Premiere Raspberries…Cerritos approached Premiere Raspberries agricultural employees who he had seen in San Francisco and interrogated them about their presence and activities in San Francisco on September 5, 2017 [P. 3].”

The ALRB general counsel alleges in the complaint that, “By videotaping and surveilling Premiere Raspberries agricultural employees while they were engaged in protected concerted activity, Premiere Raspberries interfered with the employees’ right to engage in protected concerted activity, in violation of the [California Agricultural Labor Relations] Act [P. 3].

Premiere Raspberries interfered with agricultural employees’ right to engage in protected concerted activity and violated the Act by creating an impression of surveillance of Premiere Raspberries agricultural employees while they were engaged in protected concerted activity, specifically by video-recording employees, taking notes, showing the video recording to supervisors of the workers on the recording, and interrogating employees about their activities on September 5, 2017 [P. 4],” the ALRB general counsel alleges.

  • ALRB General Counsel complaint issued on December 29, 2017:

“In July 2017, two agricultural employees were speaking about a union meeting that they had attended on the previous day. Foreperson Francisco Rodriguez overheard the conversation, looked directly at the workers, and then made a threatening gesture of drawing his finger across his throat [P. 3]…”

“In July 2017, foreperson Patricia Delgado told agricultural employees in her crew that if they voted for the UFW, the company would go out of business. Delgado also told agricultural employees in her crew that if they did not want to speak with UFW organizers during a lunch-time access period, that they should follow and stay close to her. In doing so, Delgado pressured the workers to publicly indicate whether they were union supporters or company supporters [P. 2].”

In July 2017, foreperson Edgar Ortiz ordered an agricultural employee in his crew to stop discussing the strike with his coworkers and to not invite coworkers to join the strike [P. 2].”

The ALRB general counsel alleges that, “Through its anti-union statements and actions as described above, Premiere Raspberries interfered with the employees’ right to engage in protected concerted activity, in violation of the Act…[P. 3].”

  • ALRB General Counsel complaint issued on January 8, 2018:

The general counsel alleges that gates to different company fields were locked or a truck was placed at an entrance on July 26, 2017, blocking access to UFW organizers attempting to speak with Premiere Raspberries workers during their lunch hour. On the same day in another incident a supervisor blocked access with his truck. [P. 2] State regulations allow union organizers to talk with workers in the fields during non-working hours.

  • ALRB General Counsel complaint issued on December 29, 2017:

“Immediately after taking access, UFW organizers were walking through a field, toward their cars, to leave Premiere Raspberries’ property. Premiere Raspberries agricultural employees were walking near and in the same direction as the UFW organizers. Supervisors Francisco Cerritos and Rafael Gomez approached [UFW Vice President] Lauro Barajas. Supervisor Cerritos shouted ‘get out, get out, it’s time for you to leave,’ while snapping his fingers loudly [P. 2].”

“Supervisor Cerritos and/or supervisor Gomez loudly threatened Lauro Barajas that [they] would call the sheriff to remove him and the other UFW organizers. Premiere Raspberries agricultural employees witnessed and heard supervisor Cerritos and/or supervisor Gomez’s threats to call the sheriff [P. 2].”

The ALRB general counsel alleges that, “By shouting at Lauro Barajas to leave and threatening to call the sheriff in front of Premiere Raspberries agricultural employees, Premiere Raspberries interfered with the employees’ right to engage in protected concerted activity, in violation of the Act [P. 3].”

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In addition, the members of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board issued an order dismissing objections to the election filed by Premiere Raspberries and an additional order denying a company motion for reconsideration:

—On October 10, 2017, the farm labor board explained it dismissed company election objections because the legal “cases cited by Premiere [Raspberries] involve much more pervasive and wide-ranging misconduct than that alleged in the declarations” the firm filed as proof of its claims. [P. 11)

“…objections three and four are dismissed because Premiere did not provide sufficient declaratory support setting forth facts constituting sufficient grounds for the Board to refuse to certify the election [P. 12].”

—On December 6, 2017, the ALRB board denied a motion for reconsideration of its dismissal of the company’s election objections, ruling that, “Premiere’s motion does not present any intervening change in law or previously unavailable or newly discovered evidence that would warrant the Board reconsidering its decision…Accordingly, Premiere’s motion for reconsideration or reopening of the record is DENIED [P. 3].

Premiere Raspberries are marketed under its Well•Pict label.