New wine in old bottles: The Gallo case reopened

It's Friday afternoon, the sky is blue. Some wine would be nice, but you can't afford an import and don't understand all those years and foreign names, anyway.

Gallo's Vin Rose is supposed to be inexpensive and good, but isn't it made with the blood and sweat of exploited migrant child-laborers? You want to be a good citizen, and even Walter Mondale supports the United Farm Workers, so you decide against buying a Gallo wine.

Some Boone's Farm instead? Maybe a bit more class with Andre Cold Duck? Ripple, Thunderbird, Madria Madria Sangria, Tyrolia, Carlo Rossi, Red Mountain or Josef Steuben?

If your liberal consciousness has been raised you check the label, see Modesto, California (most California wines don't list the winery or put a UFW seal of approval on the label), hurl the bottle at the wall and scream that Gallo cannot deveive those who are aware! All Modesto wines are produced at Ernest and Julio's family winery.

How do you explain your violent antipathy to the police? "Well, officer, in 1973 the Teamster goons came in and..."

Or maybe you quote, from a 1975 UFW advertisement headlined "There's blood on those grapes: This isn't a fight between two unions. It isn't even a fight between labor and management. We're fighting for our lives. Because we need our union to survive. And we think the Gallos and the other grape-growers are guilty of union-busting."

The officer still isn't convinced. He begins to jingle his handcuffs. You start to explain away your outburst, but you find you have to go back to the beginning of the story.

Gallo, the world's largest winery, produces one-third of all the wine sold in this country. Because the winery is privately owned it does not publish financial statements or release statistics, but a UFW source estimates that Gallo sells at least $250 million worth of wine and reaps profits of at least $35 million each year.

In 1967 the UFW organized the field workers and signed one of the nation's first union farm-workers contracts. That three-year contract was renewed in 1970. Even today, fewer than 50,000 of the country's 2.2 million agricultural workers are unionized.

In that 1975 advertisement urging consumers to boycott Gallo, the UFW said that they established "the beginnings of health and safety protection," prohibited the use of DDT and other possibly dangerous pesticides, prohibited the illegal hiring of children, got toilets and drinking water and washing facilities in the fields, and "stopped forced migrancy by introducing hiring halls and eliminating labor contractors" in the six years after they won their first labor contract in 1967. The implication is that they did all those things at Gallo.

But Solomon says Gallo had a medical plan for its workers for several years before the UFW came along, and that was the plan used between 1967 and 1969 until the UFW came up with their own. He adds that Gallo has never used labor contractors because they are a large enough company to run their own employment office.

"It's important to distinguish between Gallo and the other 62,000 growers in California," Dan Solomon, a Gallo spokesman, says. "There were problems with the labor contractors at other farms, but Gallo has never used them. If you want to talk about the Gallo boycott, you should talk about Gallo," he says.

Although the second contract expired in April 18, 1973, two persistent problems dragged the negotiations to a halt in June. Ernest Gallo said at the time that the "inefficiency" of the union hiring hall and problems with the UFW's methods of union discipline blocked the discussions. Solomon says the hiring hall was poorly run, adding that the union was having problems all over the state with their hiring halls.

Mark Johnson, the Boston UFW representative, says it is true there were problems with the unions' halls at first but they have been cleared up. For example, workers had to report to the hall daily and go to the fields from there. Now UFW members report directly to the fields.

Gallo spokesman Solomon says the union fined workers who refused to take time off from work to attend union meetings or picket other fields, and fined workers $5 for just missing a union meeting. "I don't think we've ever required workers to attend meetings. That's not our policy," Johnson says.

But Solomon and Johnson agree that those problems were only temporary conditions, if they did exist at all, and Solomon says Gallo does not care which union represents the workers, saying, "That's for the workers to decide."

The UFW, however, believes that the winery wanted the Teamsters to depose the Farm Workers. Johnson says the Teamsters were "hand-picked" by Gallo and that UFW organizers were harassed by Gallo guards. Gallo says the Teamsters were organizing in the valley already and that the company did not involve itself in the inter-union dispute. "We chased Teamster organizers off the property, too," Solomon says.

On June 25 the Teamsters sent a hand-delivered letter to Gallo stating that they had gotten the signatures of a majority of the field workers and were now representing them. Gallo told the UFW of the Teamster claim the next day and said they were going to schedule a meeting to investigate. The next morning the UFW called a strike.

Solomon says there was confusion initially because the UFW had been representing the workers for six years and most workers responded to the strike call at first, but many came back to work when they found that the issue was the fight between the two unions and not a question of employee-employer relations. He says "when the dust settled by the end of the month, 72 of 180 workers had not returned to work."

Part of the confusion, Solomon says, was that some of the 72 had signed the Teamster cards. "You know, when a burly Teamster wants you to sign something, you sign it to avoid the hassle. So when the strike came, some of the workers just left and we have never seen them again."

But Johnson says that 127 of approximately 150 workers joined the strikers. The actual number of strikers is currently being investigated by the California Labor Relations Board.

The UFW says that Gallo recruited a strike-breaking force of non-union migrants, "many of them children," and tried to evict 70 striking families from their homes in the labor camp. Gallo says that when they began negotiating with the Teamsters they asked the workers to come back to work, and then replaced those that didn't.

On July 10 the non-striking Gallo workers, including the new replacements, ratified a four-year Teamster contract by a vote of 158-1. The striking workers did not vote in the contract-ratification election and Cesar Chavez, head of the UFW, called the contract a "sweetheart deal" between the Teamsters and the winery. The UFW complained that the election had not been verified by a third-party, but Solomon said that it had not even been observed by Gallo. "It was a closed-door union meeting; management doesn't sit in on contract-ratification votes," Solomon says now.

The Teamster contract called for a 36 cent per hour wage increase, established a pension plan and provided unemployment insurance, hospitalization and major medical protection, life insurance and paid vacations and holidays. Gallo advertised on May 6, 1975, during the UFW's National Farm Workers Week, that the Gallo farm workers were "the highest paid in the continental United States."

Johnson says the Teamster contract is not better than the UFW's because most of the workers are ineligible for most of the benefits; to qualify they must work the "equivalent" of ten months at one ranch within a year, and most pickers must follow the harvest from ranch to ranch. With the UFW and the hiring halls a worker could work at several union ranches and still qualify.

Solomon says that is factually untrue: Under the Teamster contract a worker must work 80 hours at one ranch, compared to a 40 hour requirement in the UFW contract. He says it is a philosophical question to decide whether it is better to help all the people all the time a little bit, or to help most of the people most of the time a little bit more.

The rest of 1973 was filled with picketing and violence and squabbles between the two unions and between Gallo and the UFW. On August 30, 1973, 60 picketers were arrested at the Gallo plant, and in the middle of September Chavez announced a boycott against Gallo.

The New York Times endorsed the boycott as the best of the available alternatives and called upon the Teamsters to let the UFW unionize without having to fight the "piratical raids and sweetheart contracts of the nation's biggest, toughest union."

AFL-CIO president George Meany accused the Teamsters of a "vicious" and "disgraceful" campaign to destroy the UFW, but did not endorse the boycott, even though the UFW is an affiliate of the AF1-CIO.

The union of distillery workers and the glass blower's union, also AFL-CIO affiliates, did not endorse the boycott either. They pointed to their 30 years of relatively harmonious unionization in the Gallo factory. UFW staff member Johnson says they did not endorse the boycott because they feared that the militant UFW would strike and shut off the flow through the factory, forcing lay-offs of other workers. One of the reasons the Teamsters wanted to unionize the field workers was to cement their hold on the food industry from the fields to the trucks to the stores, he adds.

Twenty months after the boycott began the two unions and the winery agreed to support a compromise labor relations bill that California Governor Jerry Brown proposed to the legislature. Gallo had been endorsing an extension of the National Labor Relations Act to cover agricultural workers, but the UFW did not want to be subject to the national law. "When it (the federal act) was first passed it was a strong law, and the unions grew. But now it has been amended and if we were covered by it, it would be harder for us to organize. If they want to subject the UFW to the bill they should give us a twelve-year period of grace like the other unions had before the amendments were added," Johnson says.

The federal law prohibits secondary boycotts, but the California bill, which took effect August 28, 1975, allows secondary boycotts at farms where a union has won an election but has not been able to reach a contract agreement with the employer. The state law also created a state board to supervise secret-ballot elections, allows currently employed workers to petition for a decertification election that could bust a union and nullify existing contracts, and gives striking workers the right to vote in union certification elections.

As soon as the bill was passed there was an election at Gallo. The results were inconclusive and contested. The Teamsters got 223 votes and the UFW received 131, but an additional 295 votes were contested by one of the other two unions, or by Gallo.

The UFW claims that workers were harrassed and intimidated. Gallo had hired a private force of unarmed guards about a year before and Joynson says these guards all "marched" to vote together, although they were clearly not agricultural workers. The mere presence of guards on the Gallo property indicates the "insidious" nature of the Gallo dealings, he says.

Solomon says the guards had to join the Teamsters when they were hired and that the Teamsters had forced them to vote. These 28 votes have already been ruled void by the board, Solomon adds. But Johnson says it does not matter whether the guards were told to vote by Gallo or the Teamsters because the Teamsters are "a company union, they're in it with Gallo."

The election hinges on the fate of the votes of 130 "alleged economic strikers," Solomon says. Johnson is confident that if justice prevails the votes will count and the UFW will win. The board has interviewed each of the 130 and will decide sometime in the future if they are Gallo employees on strike for economic reasons.

There was a delay in the process last February, though, when the board ran out of money and was unable to receive emergency funding from the legislature. Solomon says most of the 62,000 growers opposed funding the board because it had been sloppily run and was biasedtoward the UFW. But Gallo did not support either side politically or financially.

The UFW organized a drive last April to get a proposition on the ballot that would permanently fund the board. But the proposition was defeated earlier this month, by a vote of 61 to 29 per cent. Again, Gallo did not take a side, although other growers reportedly admitted to spending at least $1.6 million to defeat the proposition. The UFW spent about $300,000.

Now Gallo is waiting for notification from the state board, and is legally forbidden to negotiate with any union until they have won an election. The UFW is still urging a boycott of Gallo wines until the election is settled and Gallo has signed a contract with the Farm Workers Union.

Why boycott a company that is legally restrained from any action? "We are boycotting unfair Teamster practices. Gallo can determine how much they will harass us with goons, and besides, you can't just turn a boycott on and off," Johnson says.

Most of Harvard's activists still support the boycott, but have moved on to other causes because the work was hard and the progress slow. Jon Grossman '78 says he worked two years ago but decided "it was more important to educate myself politically than to spend hours and hours doing work like that. It was a lot of effort with few results."

And Peter Hogness '76 says the reason to continue the boycott, despite Gallo's legal restrictions, is to try to pressure Gallo into "a cooperative attitude."

Solomon says he has his own, personal, Machiavellian views of the UFW boycott, but emphasizes that he is not speaking for Gallo. "It is hard to boycott generic things--lettuce and grapes. Gallo is an easily identifiable product, clearly labeled in stores all over the country. We're also the largest winery so we make a prominent target."

Johnson says the Gallo boycott is based on rational reasoning and is a response to Gallo's cooperation with the Teamsters.

Its size is a factor, of course: first things first.