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Gerawan attorney says pay hike unrelated to union fight

Tim Hearden

Capital Press

The embattled Gerawan Farming in Fresno recently hiked its workers' base pay from $10 to $11 an hour. The company's attorney says the raise was unrelated to Gerawan's battles with the United Farm Workers.

An attorney for the embattled Gerawan Farming in Fresno insists the company’s recent decision to raise workers’ base pay from $10 to $11 an hour had nothing to do with its disputes with the United Farm Workers.

Gerawan announced the raises July 3, citing California’s rising minimum wage as a factor in the company’s move to raise its wages for what it claims is the seventh time since 2012.

The raise will apply to employees currently working on the stone fruit harvest, which make up the vast majority of the company’s roughly 5,000 employees. Other workers such as packers, tractor drivers and irrigators already make well above $11 an hour, company officials said.

“The wage increases are not related to the legal issues between Gerawan Farming and the UFW,” the company’s attorney, Ron Barsamian, told the Capital Press in an email. “Once Gerawan Farming made the decision to increase the wages, the UFW was notified as is required by law. The UFW subsequently agreed to the implementation of the wage increases. Neither side waived their legal positions with regard to any legal issues between them.”

UFW national vice president Armando Elenes has claimed the union negotiated the $11 hourly rate and called on Gerawan to boost the base rate to $15 an hour and provide other crew and cultural workers with an additional 15 percent increase.

Gerawan and the union have been locked in a nearly year-long legal battle, as the fruit producer is challenging the constitutionality of the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board’s move to force a labor contract on the company.

Last month, Fresno County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Hamilton rejected the ALRB’s request to order Gerawan to implement the contract while the larger dispute is pending.

The issue has divided workers at Gerawan, some of whom say they’re paid well enough without a union. Workers voted in November on whether to be represented by UFW, but the ballots were impounded pending a state investigation of irregularities that were alleged during the petition drive.

Some of the workers are trying to decertify the UFW, which won representation at Gerawan in 1990 but never negotiated a contract. The union reappeared in 2012 but failed to reach an agreement with the company, and the matter was put before a mediator who hammered out a contract.

The union’s Elenes urged Barsamian in a letter July 2 “that Gerawan Farming cease to illegally refuse to implement the contract so that employees may enjoy the full benefits, rights and protections offered by the contract,” according to a news release. The union claims Gerawan owes its workers more than $6.2 million in back pay under terms of the state mediator-imposed contract.

California’s minimum hourly wage increased from $8 to $9 on July 1 and will jump to $10 an hour in 2016. Gerawan timed its base-pay increase to coincide with the minimum wage hike, which took effect about a month into the company’s stone fruit harvest, Barsamian said.

“The reasons for the increases are the same reasons Gerawan has always paid the best wages in its industry segment: Gerawan wants the best employees, and the best employees deserve the best wages,” he said.

Online

Gerawan Farming: http://www.prima.com

United Farm Workers: http://www.ufw.org



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