Unions, Immigration and Labor Law Enforcement
Unions. The AFL-CIO has made organizing immigrant workers one of its top priorities.
The UFW changed its strategy in the mid-1900s, and has moved aggressively to organize farm workers, beginning with the 1996-2000 strawberry workers' campaign that resulted in a contract with Coastal Berry covering 700 workers in Oxnard; a local union represents 800 Coastal Berry workers in Salinas.
The UFW, which reported 26,000 members and $1.7 million in member dues in 1999, in 2000 dropped the provision in its constitution that restricts it to organizing farm workers, and won an NLRB election to represent workers employed in a furniture making plant in Bakersfield. The UFW may organize nonfarm workers in citrus packing and meat packing.
Farm Labor in California
The Teamsters and UFCW represent farm and nonfarm workers, and the movement of jobs from packing houses to the fields is likely to complicate labor relations in agriculture. California's ALRA is a residual law, covering workers not covered by the federal NLRA. The NLRB decided in several 1990s cases that:
• Packing activities in the field can be done by "nonfarm workers," so that the same lettuce crew could have cutters who are farm workers and packers who are nonfarm workers. Indeed, workers could be both farm and nonfarm workers in the course of a day if they switched between cutting and packing
• Farmers who pack only the produce they grow can make some of their packing workers nonfarm employees by regularly buying a small amount of outside produce, as was the case of a mushroom farm that regularly bought exotic mushrooms to offer a more complete selection.
The changing line between farm and nonfarm work may encourage "nonfarm unions" to organize nonfarm workers in the fields. The Teamsters represent about 7,000 farm workers in California, and the UFCW won an election to represent farm workers in Arizona in 2000.
Immigration. Half of the farm work force is unauthorized. Since IRCA in 1986, immigration enforcement in agriculture has changed from a people chase to paper chase. INS enforcement today usually sees the INS subpoena I-9 forms, compare the employee SSNs and A-Numbers on the I-9 forms to SSA and INS data bases, and then the INS tells the employer to ask the employees with discrepancies to clear them up before the INS arrives to interview workers. Most employees quit before INS arrives for work place interviews.