By Rebecca Band
Spitting. Swearing. Threats. Armed Guards.
For 900 workers at Taylor Farms in Tracy, the union election at the end of March more closely resembled a prison riot than a civilized example of workplace democracy.
Taylor Farms, the largest supplier of fresh cut produce in the United States, hired 10 union busters who trolled the facility for weeks prior to the NLRB election for Teamsters representation. The union busters held intimidating captive meetings with the workers on a daily basis, bombarding small groups with anti-union messages and summarily firing union supporters.
Workers’ rights were clearly under attack, and IBEW 1245 wasted no time getting involved. The union dispatched four Organizing Stewards on a solidarity mission to work with the Teamsters in the last weeks before the election. The stewards—Nilda Garcia, Erika Barron, Rene Martinez and Carl Olguin—conducted face-to-face house visits with the Taylor Farms employees, many of whom are undocumented and all of whom are grossly underpaid.
“Workers are underpaid to the point that if they miss a day or two of work, they lose pay for that time and face threats of eviction,” said 1245 Organizing Steward Nilda Garcia.
The Organizing Stewards also learned of the unsafe conditions Taylor Farms workers are subjected to. They work in freezing temperatures with no breaks (not even to use the restroom). They are pressured not to report workplace injuries –and workers who do are fired.
For many workers at the facility who are employed by a subcontractor, it’s not even clear who their real employer is or who can be held accountable for these abuses. The contractor system kept the workers divided, and the hostile union-busting campaign only exacerbated the issue and created confusion and contention within the workforce.
“We could see the division when we went out to the plant to hand bill; workers would say that friendships were being lost because of this,” said 1245 Organizing Steward Erika Barron.
But the union’s direct, face-to-face approach helped many of these subjugated workers understand their rights and find a voice, which was vital to the campaign.
“Leading up to the last 2 days of the election the workers gained momentum by speaking up at the [company-led] captive audience meeting and chanting !Si Se Puede!” said 1245 Organizing Steward Rene Martinez.
Obscenities and Threats
Finally, Election Day came for the Taylor Farms workers. And it wasn’t pretty. According to the Teamsters:
The company stationed armed guards in full view of workers who were voting and called police who parked their squad cars in front of the facilities, adding to the climate of fear during the election. Meanwhile, company goons spat on union t-shirts, yelling obscenities and threats at union organizers and workers. One report claims a plant manager called terminated pro-union workers telling them they would be rehired if they came in and voted no against the union. Other reports suggest that workers were sent to vote twice under different names or to vote for workers on vacation.
The election conditions were so clearly in violation of labor law that the NLRB was forced to intervene, sending government officials to impound the ballots before they were all counted. The Teamsters report that the Board took the ballots to a more secure location at its offices in Oakland while it investigates the company’s unlawful conduct.
It’s unclear what will happen next at Taylor Farms, but IBEW 1245 will continue to stand by these workers until they get a truly free and fair union election.
“The solidarity within unions—regardless of which organization we belong to—at the end of the day, we are all brothers and sisters fighting for the same rights,” said 1245 Organizing Steward Carl Olguin. “The struggles of the Taylor Farms workers is exactly ‘La Causa’ (The Cause) that Cesar Chavez devoted himself to: Every worker has a right not to just dream of a better life but to stand up for one.”