Klein Ranch Strike to Win a First Contract
by Bob Johnson
In May of 1977 farm workers harvesting asparagus at the Klein Ranch, in the California Delta just north of Tracy, California, decided they had waited long enough to get their first union contract and went on strike. It had been 20 months since the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) had overwhelmingly won the election to represent the workers at the Klein Ranch, and it had been 16 months since the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) rejected the employer’s attempt to have the election nullified on technicalities. On December 11, 1975 the ALRB certified the UFW had won the election, in a precedent setting decision (1-ALRB 18) that is referenced in several other ALRB decisions that followed.
Employers in all industries fight any union’s attempt to organize, often with illegal tactics, and then continue the fight if the union is able to win a vote of the workers. Attempts to nullify a union election victory are typical. If that fails, the employer then resists the negotiation and signing of a first contract. The employer knows that nothing really changes without a contract. The contract is everything. It defines wages, benefits, and just as importantly, working conditions. This includes a grievance process to resolve differences between the workers and the employer, a disciplinary procedure that assures due process and much more.
Strikes by farm workers in California have been happening ever since there has been agriculture, but in the past the strikes were often limited to an attempt to win a wage increase for that year’s harvest or to keep wages from going lower. A March 29, 1937 article in the Lodi News-Sentinel reports, “Threats of a strike unless demands that the new wage terms for asparagus cutters be immediately placed in effect were made at a meeting of members of the Agricultural Workers Union held at Walnut Grove last night.” The San Jose Evening News ran an AP story on April 7, 1939, with the dateline Stockton, stating, “The Filipino Agricultural Laborers’ Union called a walk out of 4000 asparagus cutters in the Sacramento and San Joaquin delta region today in a wage dispute with growers.” The same newspaper reported the next day that the strike had ended and the workers had declared victory when the growers had “agreed to restore 1938 wages.” In this case the strike was not about a wage increase, but instead about still getting paid the same as the previous year.
For those asparagus cutters in 1938 a contract obtained through collective bargaining that would guarantee wage levels from season to season during the term of the contract was only a dream. Agricultural workers were excluded from the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, which had granted union representation rights and collective bargaining to most workers in this country. With the signing of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA) by Governor Jerry Brown on June 4, 1975, farm workers in California had, for the first time, the legal right to collectively bargain a contract, which would provide stability and certainty in regard to wages and other matters, but they still had to fight, and in some cases strike, to get that all important first contract.
The workers harvesting asparagus at the Klein Ranch knew they had a very limited opportunity to apply pressure on the grower. In the Delta, which is one of the major asparagus growing regions, the harvest typically starts around March or April and ends sometime in June when it gets too hot and the asparagus bolts. During the harvest it must be cut daily.
Sometimes not every important issue gets properly addressed in a complicated piece of legislation. One such issue was what type of access union organizers could have to workers at a ranch. The ALRB had determined an access rule in which union organizers had access to workers on ranches until the certification process was complete. Organizers could visit workers for one hour before or after work and during lunch breaks. This meant that organizers could go onto ranch property to talk with workers during three important phases: when the union was attempting to sign up enough workers to call for an election, during the campaigning prior to the election, and between the time the election was held and the results were certified by the ALRB. There was no determination regarding after certification. Ironically, the union could win the election, be certified, but then not have the right to visit the workers at a ranch during the very important phase of contract negotiations. This made things especially difficult in regard to workers who lived on the ranch.
This was one of the issues that the UFW had attempted to address in Proposition 14, and the thing that the growers focused on to defeat the initiative in the November 1976 election. The growers claimed that the provision in Proposition 14 that guaranteed the union access to the workers was a violation of private property rights. Their whole campaign was No on 14 to protect private property, and it worked. Proposition 14 got only 42% of the vote. It is a classic example of how to defeat an initiative. Pick out some obscure clause or phrase that is not really the major purpose of the initiative and scare the public into thinking the initiative is so awful because of it.
In the spring of 1977, the access issue remained unresolved as tension mounted at the Klein Ranch. The April 29, 1977 issue of the Tracy Press reported that California Women in Agriculture were in support of a bill introduced in the state legislature to totally eliminate all access. On May 7, 1977 UFW paralegal Curt Ullman was arrested for trespassing when he attempted to talk to workers on the Klein Ranch. Reuben Serna, who was in charge of the UFW Stockton Office, was arrested for trespassing the next day.
As an example of how the local power structure lined up with the growers, the May 9, 1977 Tracy Press reported that San Joaquin County Sheriff Frank Harty and District Attorney Joseph Baker were accusing UFW staff, Reuben Serna in particular, of purposely trying to get arrested to attract media attention. The headline was “UFW Rep Accused Of Seeking Arrest.” Their motivation in making this accusation was to discredit the UFW. The sheriff claimed that having to send deputies to the ranch jeopardized other parts of the community that would not be covered while the deputies were at the ranch. He also complained about it being a waste of taxpayers’ dollars.
The day before Curt’s arrest, the Tracy Press ran a photo of UFW Board Member Mack Lyons and Reuben Serna talking with ALRB staff at the ranch. (Mack is mistakenly listed below the photo as Mack Nile.) At the time, Mack Lyons was in charge of the Citizens Participation Department (CPD) of the UFW, based in Sacramento. CPD was the UFW’s political and lobbying arm. Along with overseeing CPD, Mack did a lot of contract negotiations in Northern California and was the ranking UFW staff person in the area. The caption under the photo says, “Farm dispute in the talking stage.” Below the caption it is reported that a two and half days work stoppage “came to a climax yesterday shortly before noon when United Farm Workers Union officials Ruben Serna… and Mack Nile…met with officials from the Agricultural Labor Relations Board… Although the UFW is refusing to call the work stoppage a ‘strike,’ workers told the Press they are refusing to cut asparagus until negotiations with Klein get off dead center. Talks over increasing the piece rate for asparagus workers resumed yesterday afternoon in Stockton, but negotiators could not be contacted for a comment last night.” Negotiations had bogged down. With the work stoppage, the workers used their available leverage to get the grower back to the table.
It was sometime around or during the “work stoppage” that I first got involved with the Klein Ranch. I was working in the UFW’s CPD office in Sacramento. I was asked by Mack Lyons to organize a delegation of supporters to visit the Klein Ranch attorney, Dan Nomellini, at his office in Stockton. The purpose was to urge him to return to the negotiating table.
On the Boycott in Chicago, I had organized delegations to visit supermarket executives to urge them to stop carrying non-union grapes, lettuce and Gallo wine in their stores. Typically we would show up unannounced and refuse to leave until the executive would meet with us.
For the visit to Nomellini’s office I had recruited an older Catholic nun to be a part of the group. The support from the faith based community for the farm worker movement was very strong and included clergy and laity from all faiths. I had first heard of Cesar Chavez from a United Methodist minister at a church retreat for high school students during the first Grape Boycott in the late 1960’s.
Nomellini was no poker player that day. It obviously really bugged him that we brought along a Catholic nun to question why he was not negotiating a contract with the UFW. In a patronizing manner, he tried to tell her that she did not know the facts and did not understand what was really going on. The sister was not swayed. Although he was a man in his late fifties, she dealt with him the same as she had probably handled many a Catholic schoolboy trying unsuccessfully to explain why his homework was not done.
This attorney had a lot riding on the outcome of the negotiations, with ramifications that went well beyond the Klein Ranch. Nomellini was representing several other growers who had ranches at which the UFW had won an election to represent the workers. The Klein Ranch negotiations were farther along than the rest, and whatever was agreed to in the Klein contract would be expected in the other contracts. Nomellini was also himself a grower. Along with Bud Klein, who was the trustee of the Jack Klein Estate, which owned the Klein Ranch, Nomellini was part of a grower social network that was heavily involved in local duck hunting clubs. His clients included local irrigation districts, and he did a lot of legal work for agricultural interests regarding water issues. What Nomellini did in regard to the Klein contract would impact him both professionally and socially.
There were supposed attempts to come to some form of understanding regarding the access issue. A headline in the May 18, 1977 issue of the Tracy Press proclaimed, “Klein Ranch Access Issue Agreed Upon.” The article tells of a meeting held on the previous Friday (May 13th) with local law enforcement, UFW staff, and ALRB staff to try to work something out. The paper was published on Wednesday and Friday, so there was often a delay between when news happened and when it appeared in the paper. Of course, this was before the Internet and today’s 24-hour news cycle.
No details were released, but the sheriff and district attorney are quoted in the article as being happy with the outcome of the meeting. No UFW staff were quoted in the story to report how our side felt about the outcome of the meeting. The viewpoint that the access issue was resolved came strictly from the sheriff and district attorney. The article also notes “A ‘work stoppage,’ which ended Monday, had begun at the ranch while ranch representatives were negotiating a contract with UFW representatives in Stockton.”
On May 22, 1977, the workers had had enough, and a full strike was called. All 55 workers left the 300 acres of asparagus for the picket line. This was a courageous act, especially for those who lived on the ranch. They would walk out from the ranch provided housing in the morning to join the picket line and then return at the end of the day. They did not get evicted, but they must have endured some uneasy nights, not knowing if there would come a knock on the door or if the door would just be busted open in the middle of the night.
Reuben Serna and Curt Ullman were the only staff at the Stockton UFW Office. Mack Lyons took me, Ed Green, and Holly Lasell to assist with the strike. Usually Ed drove for Mack and took notes in negotiations. Holly provided clerical support. They were married later that summer.
I was glad to get the opportunity. Honestly, my work in the CPD office was sometimes boring. I had been assigned to do research in support of our lobbyist, Michael Linfield. I often spent a lot of hours in a library researching the pros and cons of proposed legislation. I wanted to be a good soldier and do whatever was needed, but I was more geared toward action and interacting with people.
I had started my work with the UFW on the Boycott in Chicago. I was one of the boycotters temporarily brought out to California in 1976 to collect signatures to put Proposition 14 on the ballot and then brought back to work on the election campaign. I loved the boycott and election work. Once in a while opportunities to get out of the library did come up while I was with CPD in Sacramento. Once to pressure Governor Brown on a particular issue, I was assigned to organize a sit-in at the governor’s office in the Capitol. Sacramento had a longstanding and deeply committed community of UFW supporters, and they turned out to pack the place.
The sit-in at the governor’s office was for one day, but we also did an extensive sit-in that lasted for many days at the ALRB to protest some bad decisions by the board. Dennis Banks and other members of the American Indian Movement came over from Davis, bringing a huge ceremonial drum. It took six people to make a full circle around the drum. The sound of the beating of the drum could be heard throughout the entire building. I was also sent to Los Angeles in April to help with Get Out the Vote (GOTV) in East LA for Mayor Tom Bradley’s reelection.
My duties included preparing background information on candidates running for office, who were seeking the UFW’s endorsement. One of those candidates, whom the UFW endorsed in 1977, was Judge Lionel Wilson, who won election as Oakland’s first African-American Mayor. I enjoyed preparing the reports on candidates, but I was more than ready to get out of the office when I was assigned to the strike.
This, of course, ran contrary to everything I had promised my mother. Back in Illinois my parents had seen the move Fighting for Our Lives that documents the violence done by the growers, deputy sheriffs, and the Teamsters against farm workers during the 1973 Grape Strike. They worried about their only child going to California. The first two times I was collecting signatures and then working on the election for Proposition 14, so I assured them I would be no where near any potential violence. When I accepted the assignment to Sacramento I again assured them not to worry, because I would be in an office.
Now I was heading to work on an actual strike. I did not tell them. Most days I would be on the picket line at the ranch from early morning until mid-afternoon. Then I would return to Sacramento to make phone calls into the evening and hold meetings to organize support for the strike. The Sacramento supporters were great. They came to be on the picket line and provided food to feed the strikers. We also got help from Boycott staff and volunteers who came from San Francisco to join the picket line and bring food.
I especially enjoyed working with Reuben Serna on the strike. He was very good at recognizing and capitalizing on opportunities. In any situation, he could find something funny to make us laugh, which helped us to cope with the stress and tension that came with the strike. Reuben had a great relationship with the workers. They clearly trusted him, and looked to him for leadership.
Once the strike was on, the grower pulled out all the stops. A big, nasty guy, who was a paid consultant specializing in union busting arrived to run the ranch’s response to the strike. He drove a huge yellow Lincoln that had a hood that looked big enough to land planes. The workers on the picket line had a derogatory term in Spanish for him that they would all yell when he drove by the picket line.
Several private secure guards from a local firm called C-Comm were there with black and white cars painted to imitate deputy sheriff squad cars. The guards were armed with shotguns, which they readily displayed. They also wore pistols strapped to their hips.
A group of neighboring growers, along with some local right wing zealots, showed up to show support for the Klein Ranch and positioned themselves as a counter picket line between our picket line and the asparagus field. They waved American flags and yelled insults.
As the situation became increasingly hostile we worried about the few workers who continued to live on the ranch. On the morning of Saturday, May 28, Curt and I were going to drive my car onto the ranch to pick up two workers. It was before dawn and still totally dark. When we arrived, the growers and crazies who formed the counter picket line were already there in mass. They lined both sides of the single lane dirt road that lead from Howard Road to the worker housing that was about 1/4 of a mile into the ranch. As I drove along slowly, they yelled and pounded on the car. We rounded a turn, and there was a group standing across the road blocking our path. I was afraid to stop. I expected that if I stopped we would be dragged out of the car and beaten up. I kept going, and the group of growers jumped out of the way. Curt and I both laughed a nervous laugh as we continued on to get the workers.
We picked up the two workers, but now what do we do? Do we try to drive back out through the mob we had just chased out of the way? Curt concocted this theory that we had the right to be on the road to go to the workers’ residence and as such we had the right to stop along the road too. Not sure where he came up with that, but it sounded good at the time. We stopped on the dirt road inside the ranch, in the midst of the asparagus field. We all got out and started waving UFW flags. We had established a beachhead behind enemy lines. Of course there was nothing to stop the mob of growers from coming up the dirt road after us. Amazingly, they did not.
We were not there for long, as it was getting light, when a few growers showed up and started hassling Curt. Then Nomellini and two deputy sheriff squad cars arrived. Nomellini claimed my car had hit the arm of one of the growers, Roger Remonda, and Nomellini wanted us arrested. Curt also reported to the deputies that one of the growers had grabbed and hit him. Curt wanted to press charges. According to the next day’s issue of the Stockton Record, “The sheriff’s office noted both sides were told to get complaints Tuesday at the District Attorney’s office, but Dante Nomellini, attorney for Klein Ranch, insisted upon arrest of Ullman and Johnson, which was done on the basis of a citizen’s complaint filed by Remonda.” In California a person can make a citizen’s arrest and law enforcement is required to take the accused into custody.
Remondo was noticeably nervous as he repeated the words Nomellini told him to say to make the citizen’s arrest on me and Curt. The deputies then took us into custody. We were charged with felony assault with a deadly weapon, my car. Of course only one of us could be driving, but Nomellini insisted we both be arrested. The article says, “…who was driving was left in doubt…” The article also said, “Deputies added that Remondo said his right arm was not hurt nor would he take it to a physician for treatment.”
It was all a sham! A typical employer trick is to get union organizers arrested. Remondo admitted to deputies that his arm was not hurt, and he did not need medical attention, but Nomellini orchestrated the pretense that Remondo was struck to get us arrested on a felony. It was all about flexing power in front of the workers to intimidate them.
I had never been arrested and really did not know what to expect. After getting processed and changed into the standard orange jumpsuit, I was taken to a cell. As I stepped into the cell, I saw that my cellmates were two young African-Americans. They stared at me, and I stared back. Then one of them asked what I was in for. Like Arlo Guthrie on the Group W Bench in the movie Alice’s Restaurant, I kind of puffed up and said assault with a deadly weapon and asked what they were in for. They replied breaking and entering. For the moment, assault with a deadly weapon trumped breaking and entering.
But I knew that alone was not going to get me anywhere, so I started sharing with them how I worked for Cesar Chavez, I was working on a strike, and the grower’s attorney had framed me. They responded that they had worked in the fields, admired Cesar and hated the growers. I was in, especially when they offered to share their stash of Playboy magazines. I spent the day sleeping some, since we had been up really early that day, and enjoying the Playboys. The day dragged on slowly. After dinner there was a period when the cell doors were opened, and prisoners could mingle. I started to follow my cellmates out the door. They stopped me and told me to stay to “watch the house.” I complied.
Curt and I did not get released from jail until Sunday evening and were there about 36 hours. We missed a visit to the strike by Cesar Chavez, who came to meet with the strikers. Cesar’s visit was unannounced, perhaps for security reasons. The press was not notified, so there are no news stories about his visit.
Michael Linfield later shared what he thought was a somewhat comical conversation he heard between Mack Lyons and Cesar Chavez about whether or not the union should expend the effort to get us out of jail. Cesar wanted to know who we were, what we did for the union, and why we got arrested. Apparently satisfied that we were worth it, Cesar gave the okay to get us out.
The biggest challenge for the strike was the scabs that were driven to the ranch early every morning. We worked hard to try to cut off the flow. For a while we made it really difficult for the ranch, and they had to keep finding a new bunch of scabs each day. When the vans transporting the scabs would leave with them in the mid-afternoon, we would follow them to find out where those scabs had come from. Strikers would then visit the strikebreakers that evening to try to convince them not to return the next day.
The C-Comm security guards in their fake cop cars started escorting the vans. One afternoon Curt Ullman and I followed a van and a C-Comm car to a little cluster of houses on the edge of Stockton. The van stopped and the scabs got out. We pulled up and stopped just behind the C-Comm car that had two guards in the car. The one in the passenger seat turned around, pointing his shotgun at us. It was a warning not to get out of our car and approach the workers. We had not planned to get out anyway. Our job was to find out where they went and report back. I backed up my car, and we left.
One morning before dawn I accompanied Reuben Serna to an old part of downtown Stockton where farm workers would gather at the curb waiting to get picked by a labor contractor. In addition to it being asparagus season, it was also cherry season. Most of the labor contractors were looking for cherry pickers. Reuben spotted a labor contractor who had brought scabs to the Klein Ranch. Ruben also noticed a problem with the labor contractor’s vehicle, so Reuben got a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer, who happened to be nearby, to come over and check the labor contractor’s vehicle. The CHP officer ordered the labor contractor to empty out his vehicle that was packed full with probable scabs and leave by himself. We laughed as he drove away.
The union buster with the big Lincoln and the security guards soon became much more aggressive about keeping us from following the vehicles hauling scabs. One afternoon I started out following a van that was escorted by the big guy in his Lincoln. Soon after we started heading east on Howard Road he started to slow down. I pulled into the opposite lane to pass him, and he quickly swerved his car in front of mine, blocking me from passing. I had to hit the brakes fast to keep from rear-ending his car and almost lost control. He continued to slow down and kept blocking me from passing. Soon the van was long gone. The next day one of the security guards did the same thing when I tried to follow another van. We were no longer able to find out where the scabs had come from.
I got an idea. The vans would come out of the ranch, turning right on Tracy Boulevard and then slow down to make a left turn onto Howard Road to head east toward French Camp. The security car behind the van would also have to slow down to make that left turn onto Howard Road, and for a moment there would be a gap between the vehicles. I figured that a vehicle sitting on the shoulder of Howard Road, right at the interaction, could pull in behind the van before the security car could make the turn.
On June 1, I got the okay from Reuben to try it, but I was supposed to have someone with me. One of our supporters from Sacramento was lined up to go with me. That afternoon the vans started leaving a bit earlier than usual. Our picket line was high on a levee bank, and I could see the vans getting ready to load up. My designated partner was way down at the other end of the picket line. There was no time to get him. I ran down the embankment to my car with my dog, Bebe, and we took off to get in position on the side of Howard Road. It would later prove to be a big mistake to not have a witness with me.
My plan worked. The van made the turn, and before the security car could make the turn, I popped in behind the van. I was elated! We went a short distance on Howard Road when the security guard pulled into the other lane, passed me and tried to then cut in between the van and me. I would not let him. I stayed close to the van. When I would not let him in, he started bashing my car with his.
My dog was a Collie and German Shepherd mix. Bebe was usually very mellow, but the protective side would come out if provoked. She stood on the backseat with her head just inches behind mine, barking and growling at the car that was hitting us. It was hot out, and my car did not have air conditioning. It had been baking in the sun all day. I was sweating like crazy as I hung onto the steering wheel trying to maintain control of my car as I took repeated hits.
I had had enough and fought back. My car was a relatively small Plymouth Volare, but his car was even a bit smaller. I probably had a slight weight advantage. I think I might have caught him by surprise since I did not initially respond back to his repeated hits. I cut the wheel hard left, hit the gas, and hit him hard enough that I almost put him in the ditch on the other side of the road. He backed off, pulled in behind me, and did not try anything else.
The van drove around for what seemed like forever, probably trying to shake me. I had a new worry. I was running low on gas. What a bummer it would be to run out of gas and not be able to finish the chase, especially after what I had gone through. Fortunately, the driver finally gave up and pulled into a group of buildings in the country on the east of Stockton. As I drove by, the scabs started getting out of the van.
I should have just kept going and gotten out of there, but I decided to circle back and get another look. The security guard had pulled his car in with the van and had turned his car around so it was facing out toward the road. As I approached the driveway, he suddenly pulled his car out across the road, blocking my path. I hit the brakes, but could not stop in time. I did not want to go down in the ditch, so the only choice was to hit his car. My bumper hit his left front fender.
Initially, I backed up slowly to survey the damage to his car. Then the security guard jumped out of his car with a nightstick in hand and came running toward me. I quickly backed down the road to put some distance between him and me. I turned around and headed out of there.
I headed back into Stockton on Highway 4, also known as Farmington Road. At the corner of Farmington Road and Mariposa is a gas station next to a K-Mart. I pulled in to get gas, feeling really lucky that I had not run out. My next thought was that I needed to call in and report what happened. This was long before cell phones. I had been completely out of touch during the chase. The rest of the UFW staff had no idea where I had gone or what had happened. The pay phone at the gas station was not available, so I drove over to the K-Mart and went inside to use the pay phone. The cool air inside felt so good.
Just as I got Reuben on the phone, I saw that the security guard was standing next to his car in the gas station parking lot, looking toward the K-Mart. A moment later two deputy sheriff squad cars pulled into the K-Mart parking lot. I totally freaked! I told Reuben what was happening, and he said he would be there as quick as he could. He was at the UFW house in French Camp.
I did not want to get arrested again. I thought about trying to hide in the store, maybe in the garden section. Then I decided to exit out the back. I went through the backroom and outside behind the store. Highway 99 was only about a block away, and I thought maybe if I could get to 99 I could hitchhike to Sacramento. Behind the store was a wall with a high fence. I would have to walk to the end of the wall to get around it. Just then an unmarked police car came around the corner of the building and headed right to me. The officer pulled up next to me and ordered me to halt. I stopped. He cuffed me and put me in the back of his car. I remember he was wearing a sport coat and tie. Just looking at him dressed like that on such a hot day made me sweat.
He took me around front, and I was transferred into the back of a squad car. I was left sitting there with the windows rolled up and no air conditioning turned on. I thought I might pass out. Finally, the deputy came back to the car. I complained about being hot, and he turned on the air conditioning in the car.
Reuben showed up with Curt and Bill Monning, a UFW attorney who had been assigned to the strike a few days earlier. They tried to get me released right there. I explained that the security guard had started it and tried to run me off the road. The security guard, of course, accused me of starting it and trying to run him off the road. His word trumped mine and off to jail I went. The deputies at least allowed Reuben to take my dog home with him.
For the second time within four days, I was charged with felony assault with a deadly weapon, my car. This second time I was actually charged with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon. One for allegedly trying to run the security guard off the road on Howard Road, and a second charge for when I ran into him when he pulled out in front of me. So I now faced a total of three felony charges.
Bill Monning was my hero. The first time I was arrested I was in jail for 36 hours. Even though I was being arrested on a second and third felony, within four days, Bill got me released on my own-recognizance within an hour and a half. He had gone to a judge’s house and interrupted his dinner to get the judge to sign the release to get me out. I had a whole new special appreciation for union attorneys.
Of course, union members getting arrested and run off the road is nothing new. A May 4, 1962 article in the Modesto Bee, titled “Nine Are Cited In Asparagus Strike Episode” reported, “Picketing and harvesting are continuing in the delta asparagus fields after being enlivened this week by a car caravan episode and a report by a union member that a car tried to run him off the road. The San Joaquin County sheriff’s office reports nine members of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee were cited Wednesday for forming an illegal car caravan.”
The same day that I had been arrested again, June 1, 1977, the Stockton Record ran the headline “6 UFW Supporters Face Charges in Ranch Scuffle.” The previous day C-Comm security guards tried to block UFW staff and strikers from following ALRB staff onto the ranch. Striker Alfredo Valencia and UFW staff person Ed Green were first treated at a hospital and then taken to jail. Ed had a neck injury and wore a neck brace for some time thereafter. Four others were cited after a citizen’s arrest by a security guard. They included striker Jesse Valencia, and UFW staff Mack Lyons, Reuben Serna, and Holly Lasell.
The article states, “UFW leader Cesar Chavez, according to The Associated Press, has demanded that the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department protect UFW members as a result of Tuesday’s conflict. He also asked that the ALRB issue a complaint against the Klein Ranch for violence against workers and refusing to bargain in good faith.”
An article the next day on June 2nd had the headline “DA: Will Prosecute UFW.” The story says, “Dist. Atty. Joseph H. Baker said Wednesday that criminal charges of trespassing will be filed against any pickets of the United Farm Workers Union attempting to enter the Klein Ranch in Tracy. Baker said he discussed problems at the ranch with San Joaquin County Sheriff Frank Harty following the brief skirmish at the ranch Tuesday that brought citations to four UFW supporters and the arrests of two others who refused to accept the citations from sheriff’s deputies.” Two of our people, a striker and a staff person, get roughed up by a security guard and go to the hospital. Cesar Chavez asks the sheriff to protect UFW members from violence, but the DA’s response is to assert that he will prosecute our folks for trespassing.
This was serious business, but we also had a running joke that we did not believe in private property, because we had supported Proposition 14.
The same article also contained the line, “UFW, which reportedly won a farm labor election at the Klein Ranch, has been negotiating for a contract for 16 months.” Reportedly won? The ALRB, an official agency of the State of California, had certified the UFW as the winner of the election, but over 16 months later the Stockton Record cannot just say that the UFW won the election.
Worse than saying “reportedly,” another article that ran the same day in the Stockton Record, describing my second arrest, included the line, “The Klein Ranch has been the target of a farm labor dispute for several weeks after the UFW allegedly won an Agricultural Labor Relations Board election among workers.” Allegedly won?
On a more positive note, the June 2nd issue had a third article with the headline “7 More Contracts For UFW.” The AP story reported, “The United Farm Workers Union says it will sign a contract Friday with seven San Diego County vegetable ranches in a ceremony in National City.”
According to the Tracy Press, June 3, 1977, the security guard and I each blamed the other for the incident on the road. It also stated “sheriff’s department officials asked state criminologists to examine both vehicles and determine which was responsible for the incident.”
The Tracy Press, June 10, 1977, reported that the lab results were “inconclusive.” Deputy District Attorney Stephen Demetras is quoted as saying, “Each guy’s story can be substantiated by the lab report.” Demetras also told the paper that he had yet to file a complaint against me, and charges could be dropped if there was no complaint filed. On the other hand, the story incorrectly reported that I had tried to run both the security guard and the van full of workers off of the road. The only thing I had done to the van was follow it.
This same article also made the very important announcement that the strike had been called off a few days earlier. Reuben Serna is quoted as saying, “I think the objectives of the workers were accomplished with the work stoppage and the strike.”
Negotiations had resumed and an agreement appeared to be possible. One of the final items to be resolved was the introduction of future mechanization. The Klein Ranch also grew tomatoes and had an older tomato harvester that would be replaced at some point by a new model that probably would need fewer workers. Mechanization was a big issue. The Tracy Press even ran an editorial on June 22, 1977, supporting mechanization and proclaiming it to be a good thing that farm workers should embrace. What the editorial did not acknowledge was the cruel circumstances that had already occurred where workers had shown up expecting work the same as past years only to find, without warning, that a new machine had replaced them.
On June 19, 1977 the Stockton Record ran the headline “First in County.” Followed by “Bitter UFW Pact Fight Nears End.” The article states, “The job of negotiating the first UFW contract with a major San Joaquin County field crop rancher remains.” But it goes on to say, “For Nomellini, born in a farming family, there is no longer any question whether the UFW must be dealt with at the bargaining table.” Nomellini is quoted saying, “The growers are already resigned to the fact that if the union wins the election, they are the bargain agent.” Of course he also goes on to criticize the union’s tactics.
A July 27, 1977 AP story in The Press-Courier reported on a legislative hearing held on the performance of the ALRB. UFW attorneys Deborah Payton and Bill Monning testified at the hearing. The story reports, “Ms. Payton and William Monning, another UFW lawyer, charged that the ALRB had failed to protect workers from grower violence in the Klein strike, and demanded the ouster of ALRB general counsel Harry Delizonna.” And, “Monning said Chavez had called off picketing because he feared that workers would be killed in the ‘wholesale violence’ practiced by the growers. The union lawyer said workers had been run off roads by private guards brandishing guns and that one grower, Robert Dal Porto, had pointed a loaded pistol at a worker and threatened to blow his head off.”
The same article reports Nomellini defended the ALRB’s handing of the strike and told the hearing that the strike ended because Chavez “couldn’t hold his workers.” He claimed we were forced to maintain the picket lines with students. That was not true. The workers were a solid group, who stayed committed to the strike and each other. Some of the workers did leave to find work elsewhere, but none of them crossed the picket line. The ranch had to continuously find scabs. In an earlier article, Nomellini spoke of how Bud Klein’s neighbors and friends had supposedly come to help with the harvest. That indicates that they had trouble getting enough scabs and could not really replace the strikers.
Not long thereafter the workers at the Klein Ranch got their first contract! As a part of the settlement, the UFW dropped several unfair labor practice charges filed against the employer and to my relief all arrest charges were dropped against UFW staff and strikers. The workers had won!
As a postscript, I would add that trying to remember exactly what happened so many years ago, even with the aid of old newspaper stories, is not always easy. I have done the best I can in that regard. I apologize if I missed an important detail or did not properly describe someone’s contribution to the effort.