Wonderful Nurseries workers rally over misrepresentation

(Rigo Moran)

Employees protest recent certification under United Farm Workers in Visalia; UFW and Wonderful Nurseries engage in legal battle of claims, counterclaims

VISALIA – A conflict has brewed as workers from Wonderful Nurseries protest joining the United Farm Workers (UFW) union, leading to accusations of coercion and labor violations.

On March 27, roughly 100 workers from Wonderful Nurseries gathered outside the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) office in Visalia holding signs, printed in English and Spanish, stating their opposition to unionizing. The UFW was certified as the workers’ representative on March 4.

However, according to a UFW spokesperson, the protest was actually organized by Wonderful Nurseries, and its workers were pressured into participating. The UFW has filed an unfair labor practice (ULP) complaint against Wonderful Nurseries on March 26, which is the fifth complaint they’ve filed against the company.

“All this disputing of the (UFW) certification really serves one purpose – that is, to delay the negotiation of a union contract that would see better wages, better benefits and working conditions for workers at Wonderful Nurseries,” said Antonio De Loera-Brust, UFW communications director.

According to De Loera-Brust, the ULP states that Wonderful Nurseries coerced its employees into attending the demonstration. He said workers who resisted would be labeled UFW supporters and would face consequences.

The Times reached out to Wonderful Nurseries for comment but received no reply. The company employs over 600 workers, making it the largest grapevine nursery in North America.

Erika Navarette, the vice president of UFW, emphasized in a press release that workers at Wonderful Nurseries deserve fair treatment and the right to negotiate their own union contract.

“Workers at Wonderful Nurseries want what we all want: fair wages, good benefits, respect from management, an end to favoritism and disparate treatment and basic dignity on the job,” Navarette said. “The employer is attempting to overturn the certification workers earned with a campaign of lies and intimidation  – denying workers the opportunity to bargain in good faith for the benefits and improvements that will come with a union contract. These workers just want to make Wonderful Nurseries a wonderful place to work.”

De Loera-Brust went on to say employees at Wonderful Nurseries, not the UFW, would negotiate the union contract if and when the two sides reach an accord.

The four previous ULPs filed against Wonderful Nurseries include subjecting workers to illegal meetings, coercing them to sign anti-union petitions, distributing anti-union flyers and spreading misinformation about the union.

Wonderful Nurseries filed its own complaint against the UFW, alleging the union duped workers into signing union cards. More than half of Wonderful Nurseries employees signed union cards. The company is requesting an immediate stay of certification.

In an earlier statement, Wonderful Nurseries president Rob Yraceburu said, “Our company’s history of working with agricultural workers is rooted in mutual trust, collaboration and respect, all of which stands in contrast to the UFW actions.”

For the next step, De Loera-Brust said that is to allow the ALRB to examine the evidence.

“There is due process here,” he said. “They’re (Wonderful Nurseries) making these allegations that are false. We filed the ULP. There is an ALRB process for this stuff. We look forward to presenting our evidence of Wonderful Nurseries violating the ALR Act. The substance of our change is in that ULP.”

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