United Farm Workers union settles an employee lawsuit

Farmworkers labor in a field.
(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

The United Farm Workers union has settled a long-running lawsuit with its former field organizers, agreeing to pay $1.3 million in back wages, penalties and attorney fees.

Ana Toledo, a Salinas, Calif., attorney for former UFW organizer Francisco Cerritos, said a tentative agreement, worked out last week, will be submitted to a judge Oct. 11 and finalized after a Dec. 1 hearing.

The union had faced $1.8 million in costs related to the 2014 case — nearly half the amount the union collects in dues from 9,830 members, according to U.S. Department of Labor records.


“The high costs and risks of a lengthy appeal led the union to conclude that settling the case for an amount less than what the judge ordered is in the best interest of its members,” UFW spokesman Armando Elenes said Tuesday.

Elenes added that he hoped the bulk of the settlement would go to “the union’s hard-working staff,” not attorneys.

Plaintiff Francisco Cerritos was fired from the UFW in 2013, shortly after organizing a UFW employee union, La Union Es Para Todos (The Union is for Everyone). UFW cited several disciplinary actions in the firing.

Cerritos filed the suit a year later, saying he was misclassified as exempt from certain wage and hourly rules and was owed back wages, according to court records.

The suit alleged that the UFW regularly required Cerritos and 23 other organizers to work more than eight hours a day and 40 hours per week, did not provide meal periods after five hours of work and regularly issued pay stubs that did not specify the hours worked.

Monterey County Superior Court Judge Thomas W. Wills, who ruled in Cerritos’ favor in March, had ordered the union to pay $885,000 in back pay and $235,000 in penalties, plus legal expenses.

Elenes said those expenses amounted to more than $800,000.

Last month, Wills ordered the garnishment of UFW dues from unionized workers at four companies, including fruit and produce giants Dole and D’Arrigo Brothers, to begin paying the costs.

Attorneys were prepared to ask for garnishments from half a dozen other companies that have bargaining agreements with the UFW, Toledo said.

The union appealed the decision. Any appeal would be withdrawn if the judge accepts the settlement.

The UFW reported nearly $4.2 million in assets last year, with $882,119 in cash, $1.4 million in investments and about $1.1 million in other assets, including a property in Salinas valued at about $776,000, according to Labor Department records.

The union reported 5,580 members working under collective bargaining agreements, with an additional 3,975 contract, seasonal and retired members who have limited or no voting rights, according to Labor Department records. Most members pay 2.46% to 3% of their gross wages in dues, those records indicate.

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8:22 p.m.: This story was updated to add the amount of attorney fees and to clarify wage garnishment and legal appeal procedures.

4:05 p.m.: This story was updated with comments from the United Farm Workers union.

This article was originally published at 3:10 p.m.