first knowledge of the United Farm Workers of America was from Rainbow Coalition
organizing in the early ‘90s, as an organizer for the Rainbow Coalition of
Washington State, turning out the vote for Jesse Jackson’s presidential
campaign. Before that—I was 38, 39
years old when that happened, not a young woman—I had never registered to
vote, had never been involved at all in any kind of activism.
A Rainbow Coalition organizer knocked on my door, her name is Ann Atkeson.
She organized me into being a precinct captain for Jesse Jackson and I
became increasingly more involved in the campaign.
It was an exciting campaign. I
became a founding member of the Whatcom County Rainbow Coalition, and then a
founding member of the Statewide Rainbow Coalition.
I got involved with a wonderful group of people that are still very
involved in many ways, like Larry Gossett and Sally Soriano, Mike Lowry, Damani
Johnson, Maury Foisy, Cindy Domingo.
was the Rainbow Coalition organizers that, as I became more involved, began to
teach me about the United Farm Workers. I
had never heard of Cesar Chavez. I’d
never heard of unions. They taught
me about that. Some farm workers
came in 1990 and asked to meet with the Rainbow Coalition members here in
workers came to us at the Rainbow Coalition, we met Kurt, we met with them, and
together with Kurt Peterson we developed a Corporate Campaign.
We just hit the entire state for a good two and a half years.
It was a good campaign. The
profile of the campaign went way up. We
were giving the company a really hard time.
was an amazing researcher. Chateau
Ste. Michelle was owned by US Tobacco, and he was researching the
vulnerabilities of the company itself. We
zeroed in on the CEO, Alan Shoup, where
he worked, where he went to church, what his beliefs were, we knew everything.
We picketed all of their concerts at Woodinville.
They had this “Galloping Gourmet” sort of person that was on TV on a
cooking show and he promoted the wines. He
was a prime target for us. We tried
to get him to talk about the labor struggle, but he refused and was totally
anti-union. We dogged him.
We dogged everybody that had anything to do with the wines that was not
supporting the unionization effort. We
leafleted everywhere the wine was. It
was your regular corporate campaign.
went to their shareholders meetings on the east coast.
We raised money to send a worker’s committee with signs and banners.
Kurt and some others bought shares so they could get in, and each one
would take a worker. Every year for
about 4 years we created a scene at that shareholders meeting.
They were getting frantic. We
got the ferry system to take the wines off the ferries.
We got support from the flight attendants union from several airlines.
They couldn’t boycott the wines, but they never served it.
It’s at the stewardess’s discretion what wine was served.
They wouldn’t even take it on the plane. That had a huge impact.
We did some international work with the Chateau Ste. Michelle campaign.
We found out that the wine was big in the British market and also had a
market somewhere else in
lines were going on all the time across the state,
at restaurants, at the winery itself, at events where the wine was going
to be featured. The winery had a
dinner train, that was a very popular tourist attraction, that went from the
winery to, I don’t remember where, and you would have a fancy dinner and music
and serve the wine. We picketed the
train. The last year of the
campaign, we really escalated the corporate campaign.
We decided we were going to block the train.
We let it be known we were going to be doing that.
Helen Chavez and the UFW women did that with the grape boycott, we were
going to block this train. They
found out we were going to do that and they cancelled all of the trains.
Just like that. No more
trains. It was costing them money.
We had a friend who was sending us the minutes of the wine commission
meetings, and they were becoming very agitated.
[The refusal to negotiate] was giving [Chateau Ste. Michelle] a bad name.
was all grassroots. The workers were
going back and forth to
problem was that the union itself that existed in Granger had no infrastructure.
The membership was totally disconnected from the core board itself, the
Chateau Ste. Michelle workers were disconnected from the core board also.
Kurt tried to pull it together and he couldn’t so he got very
frustrated. The corporate campaign
was taking off very well, but what was needed was more grass roots development
of the union membership, and most of all, the Chateau Ste. Michelle workers, it
was over 200 workers, to really begin to pull together the campaign at the
workplace. He became very frustrated
and came at odds with the board, and in fact the independent union board
threatened to fire Kurt and so he quit. The
workers called me and said, “We can’t have him quit.
We’ve never had this much activity.
We’ve never gotten to this level with our campaign. We need him.”
Kurt called me and told me he was quitting, he was leaving, and so we had
a long discussion.
that time I was working at Skagit State Bank, here in
quit my job at Skagit State Bank. All
of this happened between February 1993 and April of 1993.
We [Rainbow Coalition] were so engaged as an organization into the
boycott that we’re going, “what do we do?” and I said, “I have to go to
Sunnyside.” The Rainbow leadership
didn’t want me to go, but they said, “You’re the farm worker, you have to
go.” We had an informal agreement
with the leadership that I would go for a couple of years; try to win the union
contract, and then return. I went to
Sunnyside in August . In March I decided to quit my job.
I gave notice that I would work until the end of May.
They were flabbergasted—I’d been there for 16 years—four more years
and I would have reached my retirement. My
parents were going nuts, my family was threatening to take me to a psychiatrist.
But I didn’t see any other choice because we had reached a peak with
farm workers working at the company were such excellent people—very serious.
There was a connection to me with that because I grew up as a farm worker
bless his heart, we were like a team. We
were so fired up to get this union contract.
We moved in with him and his
wife - he was newly married - for about a year.
This was a mission. We were
going to get this contract. The
minute I hit the ground in Sunnyside we started a grassroots campaign with the
union membership and the Chateau Ste. Michelle workers.
We went by the book. I’d
never worked with the UFW. I’d
read some books, Peter Matthiason’s Sal
Si Se Puedes, Conquering Goliath and
Jacques Levy’s biography of Cesar Chavez.
In those three books there are sections where Cesar talks about how to
organize and how he organized. Kurt
and I went through that and cut the pieces and ran the campaign by the book,
literally. That’s how we did it.
we met with the Chateau Ste. Michelle workers, there were only four who
originally started the committee and they said, “OK, Rosalinda, how are we
going to do this?” and I said, “Well, I’ve got these books here.
Cesar’s going to tell us and we’re going to do it one step at a
time.” The union constitution, the
UFW constitution from
took from fall 1993 and the union contract was signed December 5th,
1995. It was a very short period of
time, and it only cost approximately $130,000.
It didn’t cost very much money because the workers did the work and we
had a lot of support from the farm worker community that was so excited about
the possibility of getting this union contract and then once getting this
contract at Chateau Ste. Michelle having it move out to other industries, the
apple, asparagus, the hopps. We had
a lot of support from the local farm worker community which is needed in every
camapign. With the corporate campaign hitting really hard with the Rainbow, it
really helped to coalesce the pressure on the company so they would sit down and
negotiate. We had a thriving,
vibrant office in Sunnyside, we had a membership.
People paid $60 a year to become members of the United Farm Workers of
that time, the United Farm Workers of Washington State was a separate
organization from the national UFW. It
was separate because Cesar told the farm worker leaders of the ‘60s and
‘70s, to go on without him, because he didn’t have the resources or time to
pay attention to anything outside of
was quite a controversial campaign at the grassroots.
First of all, I wasn’t from the area.
I was from the coast, I’m a woman, and I hadn’t been involved.
I wasn’t part of the old guard. I
had a very close tie with the workers, and it’s amazing how so few people
believed the transparency of the process we developed for strategic operations.
Everything that we did, the workers were involved.
I don’t think to this day that people believe that.
That’s the disheartening part of the whole thing.
Farm workers can do that. Cesar
did it. We did it at Chateau Ste.
Michelle. A farm worker that can’t
read and write, can lead a campaign. The
fact that I can [read and write] doesn’t disqualify me from it.
I came under attack many times for not being enough of a farm worker—I
don’t have an accent, I can read and write, I’m not—I don’t know how to
say it—mousey and quiet. We took
leadership and moved the campaign forward the way the workers felt it needed to
move forward. It had never happened
before. It was a difficult time.
Our cars were vandalized. We
spent two weeks without vehicles because someone had vandalized all of our
vehicles. Sugar in the engines, my
gas tank, somebody had poked holes in it. A
lot of things happened in our campaign and we just continued pushing forward.
We couldn’t have done it without the help of the organized structure of
the corporate campaign that the Rainbow Coalition was carrying on.
Joseph and I wwere in Sunnyside and Kurt was in Sunnyside, and they were
the corporate campaign was going on, the conditions at the winery were
incredibly intense. They brought in
three union busters. The first two
we wiped out. One of the union
busters they brought in lasted like 3 months.
The workers made his life miserable and so he quit and went back to
was a very stable workforce. The
majority of them had been there at least 10 years already.
They had gone through a lot. The
reason that the campaign was so strong was because with all of the exploitation
at that company, the workers had maintained unity.
In spite of everything that had been going on—the sexual harassment at
that company was really bad. That’s
what pushed the campaign. There were
some supervisors there that took blatant advantage of women.
They had a barn, a shop, that the supervisors, in the morning, the women
would come into work, and [the supervisors] would say, “I want you [pointing]
over there at 3 o’clock. I want you [pointing] at 4’oclock,” and they
would force them to have sex with them. Things went on like that.
Kurt, at some point, found a little article in the newspaper out
there—sometime in the ’80s, one of the workers had shot one of the
supervisors when he was attempting to rape his wife.
He shot him at work. He
fled—him and his wife--they were never seen again.
That’s besides the bad wages and other things.
That’s the thing that they told me about that most stuck in my mind.
The tenacity of these people. That
they had stuck it out this long and were still willing to continue with this
fight. I told them, “As long as
you are, so will I.” And we did
that, me, Joseph and Kurt, “We’re going to take this to the end.”
It was a very good campaign.
other thing that came out of that campaign was the growth of the workers in
terms of accepting women leadership. Because
I was a woman and I brought in a lot of the women in the company and organized
them to be able to take leadership within the campaign.
They were spokespeople and committee leaders and all of that.
They took very strong leadership. There
was a group of women that were just fantastic.
They were just great. On
election day - it was so beautiful - on election day they plastered themselves
with stickers, buttons—they were like walking billboards for the campaign.
It was beautiful! We carried
on a secret ballot election; we couldn’t be near the workers, we could only be
near the workers when the ballots were being counted, and so they let the
workers out early, to their credit, to sit and watch the ballots be counted.
We’re sitting there waiting for the workers to come in and it was the
most beautiful sight when the women all came in! And they’re all like,
“Yeah! We won! We know we won!”
They had all of these bumpers stickers, stuck all over their clothes.
They all came and sat by me and we all sat there together and watched the
ballot counting. Of course we won.
It was just fantastic. It was
just great. It was the most
wonderful feeling in the world.
a good contract. What we did, is we
negotiated an election agreement that included the contract itself.
We said, “If we win the election then we will negotiate a contract and
if after 75 days we haven’t come to agreement on a contract, then an
arbitrator will come in and impose a contract on both sides.
So we wrote binding arbitration into the election agreement. So we had
our contract even before we negotiated. We
were so sure we were going to win that election.
They were so sure we were going to lose that they signed off on it.
They kept their word. We
started negotiating June 1st, or some time in June 1995, and we had a
contract by December. The union, the
UFW in its history, has had contracts that had been negotiated for 20 years.
That’s why, one of my main jobs in
within the farm worker community - farm worker leadership that had been there
since the ‘60s, they felt that I was an outsider, that I was there to cause
problems. Tomás [Villanueva] was a
great supporter of the work I was doing, but there were others there that were
very much against the organizing that we were doing.
We don’t know who put sugar in our engines, but somebody did that.
And we don’t think it was the company.
Maestas, the company hired him as a union buster and brought him in on a private
jet to talk to the workers, to vote against the union contract.
He spent a couple of days out there to try and convince the workers.
That was amazing to me. I
couldn’t believe that. He’s the
head of El Centro de la Raza in
other thing that happened is that Margarita Prentice, helped to finance the
company union, because the company formed a little core group, about 10 workers,
that said they were, the independent union, the real union of the workers, they
tried to get the workers to vote for their independent union.
Margarita Prentice helped to finance that. She bought their buttons and
somewhere in the archives we have the proof of that.
And that was disgraceful for her. The only
left Sunnyside because in order for us to negotiate the contract with Chateau
Ste. Michelle, we had to affiliate our independent union with the United Farm
Workers of America in
other big piece here that I haven’t mentioned is that the Farm Labor
Organizing Committee, which is FLOC, Valdemer Valasquez, tried to raid our
campaign also. He came in and tried
to negotiate with the company for the contract under the auspices of FLOC.
[This was] early 1994, before we had affiliated with the United Farm
Workers of America. When we
out-organized him, basically, and sent him back to
decided to leave because his wife was from
not sure how many times the contract has been renegotiated.
I think three times since 1995. It’s
a good contract. It’s one of the
best that the union has. I know
because I’ve seen all their contracts now.
I was on the Executive Board. I’m
proud of it. I’m very proud of it.
It’s like giving birth to a child!
The committee and I have always sworn to each other that we’re never
going to let anything happen to that contract, and we’ll come together when
needed no matter what to do what we need to do to make sure that it continues.
You’re talking over 200 families, and in
we didn’t get the support that we needed.
We asked for it. Tomás is the only one that supported us, and Lupe
Gamboa, who was working with Evergreen Legal Services at the time.
They weren’t part of the core team.
They weren’t part of the strategic team that came in and out.
What they helped to do was sedate some of the other guys [from the United
Farm Workers of Washington State]. We
had no connection with the United Farm Workers of California until we were ready
to affiliate in 1994, when we had brought the company to the table and we needed
them to help negotiate. What ended
up happening, I’ll never forget this: The company calls and their ready to sit
down and negotiate. So we’re
sitting there and Kurt says, “Who here knows how to negotiate a contract?”
Martin goes, “Chingow. One thing after another.”
Kurt goes, “We’ll figure it out, one way or another.”
It happened so fast and we were so into the campaign and making it
happen. The UFW knew how to
negotiate contracts and brought somebody in and negotiated the contract.
We all sat at the table, me and Kurt , Joseph and the workers.
That was an exciting time. It
wasn’t as much fun as what went on before.
It was drudgery of language and documents and documents.
Trying to keep from choking the other guy and all that kind of stuff.
a lot of sexism within our culture that just exists anyway.
This had never been done at this level in
had a fellowship he got to do the work, so part of that fellowship he used to
pay himself and me. We got some
grants, used some of that grant money to pay expenses.
Talking about salaries—sometimes we got paid, sometimes we didn’t.
Like I said, my family and I lived with Kurt for a year.
Then we finally moved out and
got our own little place. I think at
one point Kurt mortgaged his house to get money for us to continue working.
We got donations from people. Beth
Burrows, Helen Lee helped out. A lot
of people helped out. The Rainbow
Coalition sent us money. As we did
our campaign throughout the state we got checks. Five-hundred,
one-thousand—it was enough to keep us going.
think it’s the most beautiful, ideal grassroots campaign.
It worked out that way. It’s
the way it should be and it’s the way it can be, if people want to put their
time and their effort into it. The
thing is that’s what you’ve got to do. I
didn’t do anything but that. My
father died in September of 1994, right in the height of the campaign, he became
ill with cancer, right in the height of the campaign.
I saw him maybe twice before he died, by the time my family called me he
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