United Farm Workers of America (UFW), a labor union whose antecedent, United Farm Workers of America, was founded by famed pacifist Cesar Chavez in 1962, lost a class-action lawsuit filed by its own employees. A court has ordered the UFW to pay $1.2 million in unpaid overtime to the workers, as well as other penalties. Judge Thomas Wills ruled in favor of approximately 160 employees of the UFW in California on Monday, who had claimed that they had not received payment for overtime work, nor the lunch hours they were owed.
The UFW employees mostly helped to facilitate collective bargaining agreements for farm workers.
The suit was filed in 2014 by Francisco Cerritos, a former employee of UFW. Later on, 21 other internal organizers for the union joined in the lawsuit. Speaking at the Monterey County Superior Court on Monday, Cerritos said in Spanish, “This win means justice for the people that worked there and were part of the lawsuit. The people that continue working there must be respected, and it’s a message that the law applies to all employers." Cerritos went on to say, t’s unfortunate that a union asks for laws to be respected, but they do not respect them.”
The judge’s order means that of the $1.2 million award, $65,000 will go to Cerritos, and $600,000 to the approximately 20 other internal organizers in unpaid overtime. Also, $119,000 was awarded to 74 members of the class action suit who had been given defective paystubs. The remainder goes to Private Attorney General Act penalties for California Labor Code Violations. The plaintiffs were represented by Attorney Lindsey Berg-James of the Noland, Hamerly, Etienne & Hoss law firm, among others.
UFW Second Vice President Giev Kashkooli said the court made an "unfair decision" while vowing to appeal. An article appearing in The Californian, Kashkooli argued that “outsiders” paid the plaintiff in an effort to thwart the work of the UFW. Kashkooli has organized agricultural workers to demand better wages and conditions.
Attorney Ana Toledo of Noland Hamerly Etienne & Hoss, who represented the UFW employees, found it ironic that her clients had to sue a labor union for redress.
Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.