Monday, April 22, 2013

Employer's brutal union-busting tactics pushed this Calif. lawmaker too far

Robert Millman of Littler Mendelson is one of the Marquez attorneys who followed a Marquez worker to the Sacramento hearing in March.
Two high-priced union-busters made a big mistake when they followed a Marquez Brothers employee -- a Teamster -- into an Assembly hearing room in Sacramento.

Rep. Roger Hernandez, chair of the Labor and Employment Committee, was infuriated by the company's  intimidation tactic. So much so that the West Covina Democrat drove nearly three hours to show his support for the workers.

On April 11, Hernandez spoke right in front of the company’s cheese plant in Hanford, Calif.  He told the 200 mostly Latino workers that he plans to launch an investigation of the employer.

Teamsters Local 517 organized the Marquez Brothers cheese plant last year, but employers are waging a nasty campaign to prevent the workers from getting a first contract.

“We have to prevent these kind of actions in our state ... and look after those people whose voices are not usually heard,” Hernandez told the Hanford Sentinel. Hernandez is asking for voluntary cooperation from Marquez officials, but stated he would take legal action to subpoena witnesses if necessary. “We will exercise every avenue to ensure that Marquez is held accountable,” he said.

Hernandez’s comments came after his committee held a March hearing looking at ways employers intimidate and retaliate against immigrant workers.  Marquez sent two managers and two attorneys to the hearing to track one Marquez employee who testified and others who attended. The company also fired one of its workers after the hearing. A bill Hernandez introduced earlier this year would provide worker protections against intimidation, retaliation or any coercive action like those being conducted by Marquez Brothers. The Assembly Judiciary Committee will hear AB 263 tomorrow and the Assembly Labor Committee will hear it on May 1.

Candida Vanegas, who worked at the plant for three and a half years, said she was fired for attending Hernandez’s hearing and supporting unionization. “Somehow, they take it personally, and they end up harassing us,” Vanegas told the Hanford Sentinel.

Marquez officials had threatened employees before the March hearing, saying that employees’ testimony would be monitored. The two lawyers working for Marquez and two company officials who attended the hearing violated a state law protecting workers who testify at hearings, Hernandez said.

Chester Suniga, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 517, said the union is asking for a minimum wage at the Hanford plant of $12 an hour. According to Suniga, the two sides have not reached an agreement on a contract after months of negotiations because of the company’s stalling tactics.