Recently uncovered legal testimony out of California details a long list of alleged abuses from state labor agents who, the testimony alleges, secretly coordinated with union officials to intimidate, silence and disenfranchise thousands of Latino farm workers.
“They call me ignorant,” Silvia Lopez, one of the farm workers, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “They said they’d call immigration to take me out of the country.”
According to the legal testimony obtained by TheDCNF, agents for the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) allegedly intimidated farm workers at Gerawan Farming opposed to the United Farm Workers (UFW) during an election to decertify union in 2013. At the time, an attorney for the farm tried to bring the accusations to the attention of the board.
“The mass segregation of ballots, based on membership in a crew, is not only a per se illegal basis to challenge eligibility,” the attorney noted in an email obtained by TheDCNF. “It is a blatant attempt, orchestrated by the UFW and abetted by the Regional staff, to interfere with a free election, and to send a message to every worker.”
The vote was to determine whether workers wanted to continue being represented by the UFW. After 20 years of absence, the union came back to demand dues which angered many of the workers, some of whom didn’t even know they were in a union.
“Disenfranchisement tactics of this sort were used by Jim Crow segregationists to intimidate voters, or to deprive them of their unfettered right to vote,” the attorney continued. “Restrictive and arbitrary polling and registration practices designed to delay, obstruct, and discourage voting were but one means.”
The allegations have yet to be addressed because they were combined with an already existing investigation against the farm employers. Effectively the ALRB is investigating itself. The ALRB decided to lock the ballots after the union accused the employer of interfering with the vote. There is no set deadline for when the investigation is supposed to be done.
“It hurts me, it really breaks my heart,” Lopez continued. “We feel abandoned, whose going to protect us.”
Though the ballot could be unlocked pending how the investigation ends up, concerns that the ALRB is biased toward the union has made critics skeptical that will happen.
“Whose going to protect us,” Lopez said sadly. “It’s very hard to be heard … we don’t know who is being neutral.”
Accusations of voter intimidation were first brought to light in a June 18 article from Flash Report Senior Correspondent Katy Grimes. According to the additional legal testimony, obtained by TheDCNF, at least 19 separate workers alleged abuse from agency officials during the election.
According to the workers, officials told them their vote was likely to get thrown out, made them perform public verbal tests, segregated them and forcing them to show identification after explicitly telling them it wasn’t necessary to bring to the vote. The anonymous source who provided TheDCNF with documents asked that all workers remain unnamed out of concern of retaliation.
“When I arrived at the voting site, the ALRB agent named Silas came to the line of workers waiting to vote and told us that some of the crews were being challenged,” a worker said in his testimony. “Silas told us that if the allegation was to be confirmed, that all of the votes for that crew would be thrown away in the trash.”
“After the workers were informed that our votes were being challenged, we were interrogated by an agent for the ALRB,” the worker continued. “I was only a few feet from the other workers who were being interrogated . I had no privacy, and the other workers could hear the questions and my answers.”
“The challenge to my vote and the interrogation by the ALRB agent made me feel embarrassed and humiliated,” the worker concluded.
Silas Shawver, the ALRB’s Regional Director in Visalia, has previously been accused of showing a clear bias towards the union. This included a photo of him wearing a union shirt.
“I felt from the beginning that the agents for the ALRB did not want us to vote and did not want our votes to be counted,” another worker stated. “When we finally voted, the agents told us it was possible our votes would not count. I was part of the group who protested for the workers to get their vote.”
“They only told us that if we did not have an I.D. we could use a check stub,” a third worker testified. “While I was in line, the ALRB agents were asking if workers had their I.D. in addition to their check stub. I heard some of the other workers waiting in line say that this was an interrogation, and they left.”
The Center for Worker Freedom (CWF), which helped to organize a rally for the workers Wednesday, has been at the forefront of trying to get the ballot counted. Matt Patterson, executive director for CWF, notes he is not personally aware of acts of voter intimidation but wouldn’t be surprised if they ended up being true.
“This wouldn’t surprise me given the behavior of the ALRB,” Patterson told TheDCNF. “We know that 5,000 workers have not had their votes counted.”
It is unclear when the ALRB will decide whether to unlock the ballot. When asked about the allegations of worker intimidation, the ALRB told TheDCNF that it does not comment on active investigations.
The UFW did not respond to requests for comment from TheDCNF.
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