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Strawberry Pickers Vote to Unionize

Salinas, Calif. - Pickers for the nation's largest strawberry grower voted overwhelmingly to unionize, but state labor officials said early today it was too close to call which union would represent the workers.

The vote is a key test of the United Farm Workers long-running effort to restore its once-formidable clout in agriculture.

About 100 people, including babies and grandparents, were camped out on the floor of a state labor office in Salinas last night waiting for the results. Many had been up since 5 a.m. picking strawberries.

The UFW received votes from 577 of the opened ballots, while the Coastal Berry of California Farm Worker Committee had 646. A total of 79 people opted for no union representation.

Of the 1,521 eligible voters, 1,362 cast ballots. However, 60 ballots remained challenged early today because officials had not determined whether those people were eligible to vote, according to figures from the Agricultural Labor Relations Board.

Challenges came mostly from labor officials, but there were also some by the unions. The unresolved ballots could force a runoff. It was still uncertain today whether Coastal Berry would have enough to win a majority, or if it would have to face the UFW in a runoff.

Under the voting rules, a runoff is required unless one of the three options wins a simple majority. Each Group needs 682 votes to win.

Labor-relations board officials planned to meet today to discuss the unresolved ballots, said the board's regional director, Fred Capuyan. He would not speculate on how long it would take to determine a winner.

The results of the vote will be pivotal in the UFW's effort to over come the doldrums it fell into even before the 1993 death of its legendary founder, Cesar Chavez, who inspired 80,000 farm workers to join up by 1970. Union membership declined to 20,000 at the time of his death in 1993.

In 1995, the UFW tried to kindle a resurgence, starting in the most difficult place: strawberry fields, where picking the crops is entry-level farm work, the most backbreaking, low-skilled labor available.

Since then UFW has won 18 union elections and signed 22 first time contracts with growers of other crops, increasing overall membership to 27,000.

But the state's $ 600 million strawberry industry, which employs about 20,000 workers, has been resistant.

Until this week, the only strawberry grower to sign a UFW contract was a small organic farm with 50 workers.

Coastal Berry President Ernie Parley said last night that the company remains neutral on who represents the workers and that it just wants an end to the strife.

"It's pretty tough to have an election going on in your field when you're trying to get the harvest in," he said.

By: Martha Mendoza, The Associated Press. This article appeared in, The Seattle Times Thursday, May 27, 1999. Page A-14

Unions would not be needed if the employers would share the profits made by the labors of the employees fairly. However as a whole most employers do not concern themselves with their employees needs. We find this to be more true with lower paying, lower skill level & back breaking work.

I'm in favor of groups of people coming together as one bargaining unit to negotiate with their employers. This is done Unionizing the work force. If the employer provided for all the needs of the employees in a fair way there would be no need for Unions. However that does not happen very often.

This union effort in California; is a positive movement that the workers from Washington State or any other State in the Union can learn from. Unions are the back bone of this country. For without Unions we all would be working for less money and benefits & worse working conditions.