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UFW pickets Ace Tomato
Union upset firm challenging labor board ruling
UFW-Ace-DSC 1274a
Louis Gonzales, 77, of Stockton joined some 30 picketers with the United Farm Workers union as they staged a protest Tuesday afternoon against Ace Tomato plant on French Camp Road. - photo by GLENN KAHL

The United Farm Workers (UFW) union had some 30 flag-waving picketers protesting on French Camp Road Tuesday afternoon at the Ace Tomato Company plant to demonstrate their discontent with the company’s failure to support a proposed labor agreement contract.

Ace has taken exception to the decision of a mediator and an agricultural board ruling.

The demonstrators parked their vehicles off the edge of the roadway and stood in a line across from the processing and packing facility currently in operation for the tomato harvesting season.

The UFW had sought the support of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) in Sacramento where a spokesman said on Friday that it could not act on a plea to force the Ace Tomato Company into an agreement with the union that had been recognized by their board and objected to by the company.

The decision was based on the fact that there was no legal status that would support such an enforcement at this point in time involving a pay and benefits offering.

Louis Gonzales, 77, of Stockton was one of the many on the picket line.  He said he remembered picking onions in French Camp when he was a teen and making a total of $3 for a day’s work.  He said he will always remember how hot those fields were noting that it was his first and last days in the onions.

“My family came to Stockton in 1936,” he said.  “My uncle would come and visit us when he was in the bracero program of the early ‘50s.” Gonzales graduated from high school in 1952 and went into the U.S. Army a year later.

The Stockton man said he would start picking tomatoes for two months in September while in high school and would pick some peaches too.

In World War II he remembers his family drove to Fresno where they picked grapes. He later spent some time picking cotton and putting it into large sacks that would be measured on scales.

In the Army he became the secretary for a colonel at Ft. Harrison in Colorado and later went to work at Sharpe General Depot and the Tracy Defense Depot.  He said he has no hesitation in supporting the UFW.

The UFW had picketed the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board on Wednesday at the state capitol.  The pay and benefits package was developed the last week of June by an independent negotiator. It was upheld by the agricultural labor board the end of July following several months of negotiations.

Ace Tomato was given until Monday to answer the labor board’s decision.  Ace, however, is opting to take the matter to a state appeals court within 30 days to offer their arguments. 

A spokesman for the ALRB said they have done everything possible to resolve the issue adding that they have no choice but to follow the legal processes.

The UFW reportedly won the right to represent the Ace workers some 23 years ago in 1989.  Company attorney Rob Carrol of San Francisco countered the UFW claim that Ace has been dragging its feet in the process – saying they are completely wrong.

Carrol charged that the UFW has done literally nothing to secure a labor contract until last year in 2011. 

A union official cited the ALRB for passing the buck in the matter, saying the UFW is going to search out every potential avenue of relief in their attempt at securing a contract for their workers.