Lancaster farming. (Lancaster, Pa., etc.) 1955-current, October 12, 1974, Image 15

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    Organizing Ag Labor
ICondnutd from >Pa|t 14J
welfare of farm worker* A deprived
worker is just ax deprived working for
a giant corporation ax he would lie if he
were employed by a small farmer The
.structure of the industry does have some
relevance to the possibilities of effective
ly unionizing agriculture, and for the
influence of such measures as product
boycotts in achieving that end
Although large corporate enterprises
do exist in agriculture, they are definitely
the exception In 1970 there were ap
proximately 17 million "commercial
farms" in the United States Only about
52,000 of these, or about 3°!„ had gross
sales (not net profits) of $lOO,OOO or
more Only 1,586 farms in (he United
States had gross sales of $1 million or
more (A business with gross sales of $1
mil’ion is still relatively small ) These
1,586 farms with gross sale-, of $1 million
or more collectively accounted for only
11 percent of the nation’s value of agri
cultural output
Of the 52,000 farms with gross sales of
$lOO,OOO or more, 8,049 were owned by
corporations, mostly family corporations
Only 858 were owned by corporations
with ten or more stockholders.
Farm worker organization
Attempts to organize farm workers in
this country have occurred for more than
a century In what is now the United
States, the first recorded farm-worker
strike took place in Hawaii in 1841
There were several short-lived organiza
tions of agricultural workers during the
latter part of the nineteenth century and
early in the twentieth Efforts were made
by the Industrial Workers of the World
about 1912, the Communist Party's
Trade Union Unity League in the earlv
1930’5, and both the AFL and CIO in the
late 1930’5.
There were also some independent
unions formed A few of these early
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unions have survived, su< h as those at
Scabrook Farms in New Jersey and the
Butler Countv Mushroom Farms in
Western Pennsylvania Later, workers
were successfully organized on some
sugar-cane and pineapple plantations in
Hawaii and on some dairy farms in
southern California These unions also
are still in existence A number of these
early agricultural-worker unions were
affiliated with the Teamsters For the
most part however, agricultural organiz
ing efforts were unsuccessful because of
such factors as seasonality and short
duration of jobs, high worker mobility
and low labor-force attachment, and a
general surplus of unskilled” labor at low
wage rates The lack of supportive legis
lation has also undoubtedly been a fac
The latest attempts at farm-worker
organizations began in California in 1959
when the AFL-CIO established the Ag
ricultural Worker’s Organizing Commit
tee (AWOC) This group was largely un
successful in obtaining recognition until
after 1965 At that time the “Bracero
Program," under whuh Mexican workers
were brought in to the United States for
seasonal farm work and which had been
initiated due to war-time labor shortages,
was terminated At about the same time,
AWOC was joined by a small, indepen
dent union the National Farm Workers
Association, which had been founded
about 4 years earlier and was led by
Cesar Chavez This largely Mexican-
Amencan union combined the traditional
trade-union approach with the cohesive
force of a common cultural background
based largely on the Catholic faith Co
hesiveness was lacking in most previous
attempts to organize farm workers The
two unions later merged as the United
Farm Workers Organizing Committee
and are now the United Farm Workers,
a chartered union of the AFL-CIO.
The Western Conference of Teamsters ■’
BHM Farm Equipment, Inc.
Annville, R.D.I, Pa.
Roy H. Buck, Inc.
Ephrata, R.D.2
was also active throughout this period
This group had organized many of the
hauling and pro< essmg workers, and at
tempted from time to time l to extend this
organization hack to the field workers
A number of jurisdictional disputes be
tween UFW and the Teamsters erupted
Many attempts to resolve these through
inter-union negotiations have been made,
hut have not been successful Juris
dictional problems have been especially
troublesome among lettuce workers, be
cause technological changes in methods
of harvesting and packing have resulted
in many functions, formerly performed
in the packing sheds under Teamsters’
contracts, now being performed in the
fields During the past few years, quite a
number of contracts in grapes, lettuce,
citrus fruits and other commodities have
been signed with both UFW and the*
Teamsters Some remain in force while
others are lapsing or changing jurisdic
tions The situation remains in a state of
It seems fairly clear that the dispute
between the Teamsters and UFW is a
jurisdictional dispute similar to manv
which have plagued the labor movement
The Teamsters have had a long history
of interest in organising agricultural
workers, often an extension of their or
ganization cf packing shed and transfer
worker. It would be difficult to label
their long-standing dairy farm contracts
in California and contracts at Seabrook
Farms in New Jersey as “sweetheart”
contracts Neithei the Teamsters nor
UFW contracts with lettuce growers
have resulted from NLRB supervised
worker elections Thus, it is difficult to
determine objectively what the woikers’
real sentiments are Lettuce growers ap
pear to have shown an inclination toward
the Teamsters because, in some eases,
their other workers were already repre
sented by the Teamsters. The Teamsters
also represent a more established and
“traditional” union that the growers ap
pear to be more comfortable with
Labor legislation
One of the major factors in perpetuating
the turmoil in farm-worker organizing
efforts is the absence of a legal frame
work— uch as exists in non-agncultural
industry—for settling these disputes Ag
gnculture was specifically exempted
from the provisions of the National La
bor Relations Act (NLRA) and its sub
sequent amendments This Act provides
a mechanism, through the National La
bor Relations Board (NLRB), for de
termining whether workers wish to be
represented bv a union, who is eligible
to vote on representation, what tactics
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Lancaster Farming. Saturday, Oct. 12.1974
Dillerville Rd, Lancaster
are legal for workers to use in inducing
an employer to bargain, what tactics are
legal for employers to use in attempting
to discourage workers from organizing,
what union may represent the workers,
and other aspects of the organizing pro
cess The NLRB also defines legitimate
areas for negotiation, assists in adjudi
cating labor disputes, and conducts and
polices elections
The exclusion of agriculture from the
NLRA does not mean farm labor unions
are illegal, they are perfectly legal. It
does mean that none of the rules govern
ing employer and union behavior speci
fied in the NLRA or the services of the
NLRB are applicable in agricultural
labor disputes This has led to the use
of tactics by both employers and workers
that would be illegal or of dubious le
gality if agriculture was subject to the
The most effective weapon of unions
in organizing is the strike However, in
many of the agricultural organizing at
tempts the strike has proved rather in
effective Employers claim this is be
cause the workers have not supported
the strike calls, while unions claim it is
because employers have used coercive
practices on employees and replaced
strikes with non-union (“scab”) labor
Irrespective of the reason, it is difficult
for a strike to be effective, particularly
in a generally surplus labor situation,
without the support of the NLRB
At least in part because of the
fectiveness of the strike, agricultural
organizing efforts in recent years havC".
made extensive use of boycotts as an
organizing tool In this case they have
been used to coerce employers into ne
gotiating contracts by drying up the
markets for their products Nationwide
boycotts have been attempted in table
grapes, iceburg lettuce, and other pro
ducts with some success Product boy
cotts have also been used in the inter
union jurisdictional disputes.
Although product and secondary boy
cotts are not illegal in agriculture, some
of the tactics being employed would be
illegal or of questionable legality as “un
fair” labor practices in industries cov
ered by the NLRA Among the reasons
for this are: (a) that they can harm
third parties which are not involved in
the disputes (namely other producers
than those being struck, including in the
case of agriculture many small producers
who hire little or no labor and whole
salers and retailers of the product), and
(b) if successful, they can force an em
ployer into signing an agreement without
the consent of his workers In the pres-
[Continued On Page 17]
Ph. 717-397-4954