June 17, 2014
RALEIGH, NC—Two faith-based groups representing millions of worshipers in more than 100,000 local congregations across the United States have signed on to letters urging Dan Gerawan, owner of Fresno, Calif.-based Gerawan Farming Inc., one of America’s largest tree fruit and table grape companies, to obey state labor law by implementing a union contract issued last year by a neutral state mediator that would bring workers pay raises and benefits.
The National Council of Churches, headquartered in Washington, D.C., represents 37 member communions with 45 million men and women in more than 100,000 congregations in communities across the country. Related to the council of churches is the Raleigh, North Carolina-based National Farm Worker Ministry, which comprises 33 member organizations from throughout the nation. Together, the two organizations reflect much of the length and breath of the religious community in America. Both groups have a decades-long history of supporting the United Farm Workers of America. The UFW and the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board have been battling to get Gerawan to implement the union contract since 2013, when Gerawan farm workers invoked the state’s binding mediation law that lets workers bring in neutral mediators to hammer out union contracts when employers refuse to negotiate them.
Gerawan Farming has chosen “not only to ignore the law, but to engage in multiple violations of it, including exercising illegal influence over employees, failing to bargain in good faith and then failing to implement the resulting [union] contract,” according to a letter to Gerawan from James E. Winkler, general secretary and president of the National Council of Churches. “Workers are experiencing wage losses that would have been gained through the contract,” the letter continued. “Gerawan Farming is one of the largest grape and tree fruit produces in the nation and claims pride in the quality of its Prima-brand produce. We urge you now to extend that quality to include respect for the law and to implement the [union] contract with the United Farm Workers.”
The letter to Dan Gerawan from the National Farm Worker Ministry Board of Directors followed recent meetings by board members with Gerawan workers in California where the faith activists heard workers’ testimony illustrating “serious, multiple and repeated violations” of state labor law plus worker accounts confirming state investigators’ exposure of massive forgers and fraud, and illegal company support for bids to decertify the UFW. The NFWM board “call[ed] on Gerawan Farming to immediately implement the Gerawan workers’ union contract lawfully issued by the neutral state mediator and approved by the state farm labor board.”
NFWM’s letter to Gerawan cites “conservative calculations by the United Farm Workers show[ing] that by refusing to implement that contract, you are depriving your workers of millions of dollars you owe them in wages and benefits retroactive to July 2013, as well as millions of dollars more over the duration of the contract.” The NFWM board vowed to “work with our member organizations in bringing the plight of Gerawan workers to the attention of our allies as well as retailers across the nation who carry [Gerawan’s] Prima-brand products.”
The complete texts of the letters to Dan Gerawan from the National Council of Churches and the National Farm Worker Ministry are available from the NFWM.Contact: Rev. Lindsay C. Comstock