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Chavez Says Deukmejian Is Crippling Farm Law

Since George Deukmejian became governor, he and his political appointees have argued that their changes in the Agricultural Labor Relations Board were necessary to correct “an easily perceived bias towards” farm workers and our union.

That premise mirrored an avalanche of similar charges by growers from almost the moment the law took effect in 1975. These stories have been given broad circulation in the press and the Legislature.

We always knew Gov. Deukmejian would cripple the ALRB because agribusiness special interests are his biggest ally and contributor; growers gave him $1 million to run for governor in 1982--and nearly as much last year for his reapportionment initiative. The phony bias accusation created the political camouflage Deukmejian needed to pay back his debt to agribusiness.

The bias charge was repeated so often that even some of our friends accepted it as fact. That’s why we supported an independent performance audit of the ALRB’s 10-year record.

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That investigation was conducted by the prestigious office of the Auditor General of California. As you know, the auditor general works under the direction of a bipartisan, bicameral committee of the Legislature--the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. It’s chairman is Assemblyman Art Agnos (D-San Francisco). Its vice chairman is Sen. Ken Maddy. (Maddy, a Fresno Republican, is one of agriculture’s leading champions.) The audit took many months and $63,000 to complete.

Auditor General Thomas Hayes stated his conclusions at a legislative hearing on May 29:

--Based upon a statistical analysis and court review of ALRB decisions, “we didn’t find any direct evidence of bias. It appears as though the legal system is upholding the board’s decisions in a great majority of cases.”

--An examination of the 153 appellate court cases that reviewed board rulings showed: 119 ALRB decisions upheld and another 19 modified and upheld. The ALRB was reversed in only 15 cases. Since “the courts looked at (ALRB) cases in great detail,” the board’s appeals court record is an important measure of whether its decisions are legally correct and supported by the evidence.

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--Even Sen. Maddy conceded that “if the board were biased it would be reflected in an overwhelming number of rebuttals” of its decisions by the appellate courts.

--Another key finding was a major increase in the number of charges filed by farm workers against growers that are dismissed by Deukmejian’s ALRB appointees. “There has been a higher rate of dismissal of charges . . . especially in this fiscal year,” Hayes testified.

The auditor general’s testimony exposes Deukmejian naked to the truth that the assault on the ALRB was designed to pay back his debt to corporate agribusiness:

--A massive 30% cut in the ALRB’s budget targeting the investigators, prosecutors, and hearing judges who enforce the law on a daily basis.

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--A huge rise in the backlog of uninvestigated farm worker charges against growers, which jumped from 392 in 1982 to more than 1,000 in 1984. (There was a massive dismissal of farm worker charges in late 1984 so Deukmejian could claim, in a Feb. 8, 1985 speech, that “this year, we’ve nearly eliminated the backlog we inherited.”

--Closing off the process of forcing growers to pay farm workers tens of millions of dollars they are owed in back pay due to employer violations. Not a single court or ALRB-ordered back-pay case has been processed since the governor took office in January, 1983.

--Deukmejian appointees have unilaterally tried to settle farm worker cases with growers for as little as 10 cents on the dollar. Federal policy is that worker back-pay cases can never be resolved for less than 80% of what they are worth.

--Farm workers who cooperated with ALRB investigators on the promise of confidentiality find Deukmejian agents are turning their names over to the growers--growers who have been found guilty of coercing and retaliating against their workers.

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--Deukmejian’s appointees have conducted a systematic purge of ALRB Civil Service employees who don’t share the governor’s pro-grower philosophy. In a petition, nearly all the staff from the ALRB’s Salinas office said, “We are punished for our efforts to carry out the law since such efforts are seen as signs of ‘philosophical differences.’ ” When a Deukmejian political appointee saw the petition he threatened to fire those who signed it.

CESAR E. CHAVEZ

Keene

Chavez is president of the AFL-CIO United Farm Workers of America.

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