Letter from a Union Organizer
The American Consulting Group, an eyewitness account
Mr. Jack O'Dell
C/O Pacifica Foundation
1929 Martin Luther King Way
April 19, 1997
Dear Mr. O'Dell,
First of all, I'm grateful that KPFA has used our news releases from the TomaTek organizing campaign in Firebaugh during the past couple of years. Two years ago the tomato processing workers at TomaTek, making $6 an hour with no benefits and suffering rampant discrimination, decided to organize for union representation. Your news programs gave these workers a voice on English language radio heard throughout the Central Valley which otherwise would not have been heard.
Unfortunately, your use of our sound bites from that San Joaquin Valley organizing struggle now causes a dilemma of moral and political conflict of interest. Your station, which I used to depend upon for reliable and honest news, recently engaged the services of the corrupt American Consulting Group (ACG) to deal with KPFA's labor issues. Horrendous! That is crossing the line, joining the enemy and paying them off with subscriber money. Can KPFA be so blind to the difference between "Them" and "Us" that it has become one of "Them?"
ACG is the same union-busting labor consultant outfit hired by TomaTek Inc. to defeat the efforts of their 666 mostly immigrant workers in their struggle for unionization to win respect, dignity and better wages and working conditions. In a National Labor Relations Board election in 1995 the workers won a majority but still lost the tally. An NLRB judge decided to count a supervisor's vote, scaling back the workers' one vote edge to a tie. Though the election was lost, the company had committed so many serious violations of the workers rights that a new election was ordered in 1996.
TomaTek's systematic campaign of illegal intimidation, lies and promises was seen by its worker victims as "company terrorism." In 1995 two leaders of the Teamster/TomaTek Organizing Committee were fired and charged with assaulting a police officer in the company personnel office. After the election, the charges, based on outright lies, were thrown out but the company's point was made: try to organize and you're in the hands of the law and out of work, with the nearest comparable jobs 40 miles away.
ACG consultants started TomaTek's 1996 season by signing up several thousand job applicants at the company gate to, as the word shot through town, "be there to replace the current workers when the union orders a strike." ACG trained all the managers and supervisors at the local church. ACG founder Fred Long has a documented record of training managers to lie, cheat and falsify documents. I have read information that he instructed one group of management people in falsifying documents, then told them, "There is no such thing as perjury in a Labor Board proceeding...No such thing as perjury...To some of you that may seem unethical. That is the way this business is." TomaTek hired some 137 new workers, selected largely from among friends and relatives of management and pro-company people. Supervisors guarded against any contact between new hires and experienced pro-union workers by prohibiting talk on the production lines, shifting schedules in the lunchroom and even patrolling them in the bathrooms. A powerful grower, the company and government officials successfully schemed to deny us access to abutting federal property thus blocking organizers from leafleting and speaking to people walking to and from their cars at the main plant gate.
Workers were forced to attend company meetings to be shown anti-union videos and be fed a line of intimidation which instilled fear and division. Employees were promised that a company win would mean raises and other improvements. They were threatened that, if the union won, the company might move or shut down or they'd face strikes, violence and replacement. ACG stooges didn't stop short of using physical threats against workers and union organizers. ACG consultants displayed shopping carts with $80 worth of groceries and convinced many workers that union dues would be $80 a week (instead of the truth; the equivalent of two hours pay a month.) ACG's role was nothing short of waging class warfare for TomaTek.
When the NLRB brought charges against TomaTek, ACG founder Fred Long handled the court case, insulting every Spanish speaking worker witness with sneering contempt and disrespect. Long's own company witnesses gave carefully prepared but incredible testimony. His main witness was the plant manager who was effectively revealed by the NLRB and the union as either falsely signing a sworn document under penalty of perjury or testifying falsely on the witness stand. Fred Long's ACG performance was as hate-filled and racist as any I have ever witnessed or can imagine.
ACG is never innocently hired to serve employer interests. These hired guns proudly present their credentials to any company ready to make war upon its employees. When I learned they were TomaTek's "consultant" I immediately was able to find 9 1/2 pounds of written material documenting ACG's record of infamy. KPFA has access to some of the best and brightest researchers in the country. Whoever contracted with ACG either knew exactly what s/he was doing or is morally and intellectually incapable and politically unsuited for any responsible position in a community radio station which identifies itself as progressive.
Fred Hirsch, Organizer
Santa Cruz, CA