One of the CWA’s earliest activism efforts was in response to the United Farm Worker’s Union’s (UFW) push for labor and union rights. In 1976, the UFW sponsored California’s Proposition 14, the Farm Labor Initiative. Feeling betrayed by Governor Brown for favoring the UFW and finding problems with the proposition, the CWA encouraged the public to vote against the measure.
One of the main objections the CWA had toward Proposition 14 was that they claimed that it would violate property rights and invade workers’ privacy. For example, Proposition 14 would require employers to allow organizers to hold meetings on their property for a total of one hour per day. The CWA argued that this was a violation of an existing state trespassing law.
Additionally, employees would have the right to circulate and sign petitions that accumulated fifty percent or more of the laborers in order to form a bargaining unit represented by a certified labor organization with collective bargaining agreement rights. The CWA argued that it would make it harder for union members to dispose of an established union.
Finally, the state would have the right to appropriate funding for the Agricultural Labor Relations Board to carry out the law’s provisions. The CWA argued that this would give the state a blank check.
Furthermore, the CWA unexpectedly received support from Sister Thomas More Bertels, a nun and Professor of History at Silver Lake College in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and former supporter of the UFW.
In an April 1976 interview for Farm Journal, Sister Bertels explained that she retracted support from the UFW based on first-hand research that disproved previous assumptions she made about the UFW and the agricultural industry. Sister Bertels was under the impression that “there was no such thing as a family farmer in California. [Rather] conglomerate tycoons kept farm workers in bondage.” However, after meeting with members of the American Agri-Women organization, Sister Bertels discovered that family farms existed in California, that there were “no tycoons among them! Surprising!”
In an effort to search deeper into this revelation, Sister Bertels visited the Palm Spring grape vineyard to meet with growers and laborers to review their pay scales, correspondence, photographs of laborers’ housing, data regarding the destruction of facilities, and to inspect evidence of farmer’s mistreatment of laborers. Sister Bertels also reviewed the findings of Dr. Gaston, a pastor of the First Congregational Church in Tempe, Arizona’s and researcher for the Truth Squad, an agency commissioned by the Arizona Ecumenical Council in May 1972.
Based on first-hand research and observations, and on the findings of Dr. Gaston’s Truth Squad, Sister Bertels concluded “we found no basis in truth for the allegations of farm workers in California. We verified the findings of Dr. Gaston and his Truth Squad plain and simple! The charge that growers refused to permit workers to unionize was untrue!” Sister Bertels further stated, “in fact, the UFW chose the grape industry as the foundation because these workers were settled in the area and pretty well paid. Shrewd strategy: Mobile people can’t be organized: poor people can’t pay dues.” As a result, Sister Bertels became an advocate for farmers and a supporter of the CWA, and even spoke at CWA conferences. To the CWA’s satisfaction, Proposition 14 was defeated.
1. "CWA Activism"
2. "CWA Activism: Proposition 14"