Regents Ignore Farm Workers’ Petition

Rudy Sustaita. The Daily Texan. April 11, 1986

The UT System has pushed aside a farm workers’ petition for better working conditions on the System’s West Texas vineyards, an attorney for the union said Tuesday.

Stephen McIntyre, Texas Rural Legal Aid attorney, said he filed a petition to the System Board of Regents March 31 on behalf of the International Union of Agriculture and Industrial Workers.

The union charges that farm workers have been victims of various abuses on the Ste. Genevieve Winery and Vineyard near Fort Stockton. The charges include unlawful governmental surveillance, pesticide abuse and inadequate toilet facilities and drinking water.

“We filed a petition saying, ‘We’ve got some problems out here,’” McIntyre said, adding that differences would be ironed out at an April 19 meeting at the Texas Tech University School of Law. He said any agreement at the closed-door meeting would be non-binding.

The System owns the property and leases it to a consortium. The consortium-SGRC-includes Tony Sanchez Oil and Gas Corp. in San Antonio; Gilldorn Financial Co. of Austin; Richter Co., French grape nursery; and Cordier Inc., a French wine producer.

The consortium hires contractors who pick the grapes, which are turned into wine. The System receives 8 percent of the profits from the wine, bottled under the name of Ste. Genevieve.

In the past, System officials have maintained that the union should bargain with the consortium and the contractors only. They said the System is indirectly involved and therefore not responsible.

“That’s silly,” McIntyre said. “The statute concerning pesticide and toilet sanitation is directed toward the ultimate owner as well. And the bottom line is UT owns that land.”

McIntyre said the System has not reacted enthusiastically to the petition. He said W.O. Schultz, System general attorney and general counsel, sent a letter saying the request came too late for the Board of Regents’ consideration.

“It’s extremely unfortunate because here’s a chance to settle something and it’s being delayed,” McIntyre said. “If I were them, I would jump at the chance.” Delaying the meeting could push it back to June during harvest, McIntyre said.

Schultz, in Galveston for the Board of Regents meeting, refused to comment.

Judy Coffin, a San Francisco attorney representing the Ste. Genevieve Vineyards, also refused to comment.

“I talked to my clients and they don’t want to give any statements at this time,” Coffin said.

The union’s petition represents one of the several attempts by the union to improve working conditions. In August, it threatened the system with a suit. In November, the union conducted a march, and in January it held a strike and called for a boycott of the wines.

The union also has filed complaints with the Texas Department of Health in January, and with the Texas Department of Agriculture in late August.

Last week, the agriculture department found that aerial sprayings at Ste. Genevieve Vineyards during May 5, 1985 and May 25, 1985 violated the Texas Agriculture Code.

The charge of unlawful government surveillance refers to alleged union busting on the part of the Pecos County Sheriff’s Department, McIntyre said. He said several farm workers, on strike in July for better working conditions, saw Pecos County sheriff’s deputies driving buses of non-union farm workers through a picket line.

“They might be working on the side of UT and SGRC,” McIntyre said. “We’d like to know that, but we can’t get a straight answer.”

Pecos County Sheriff Bruce Wilson-who said he has been to the vineyards on several occasions, although he said he has not been called to the there-said to his knowledge, the department has not brought any farm workers in on buses.

“I don’t remember,” Wilson said. “And I’m not going to no meeting. I have no comment.”

McIntyre said there are not enough toilets provided to the farm workers, and the ones available “are filthy and too far away.”

In addition, the petition states the Agricultural and Worker Protection Act has been violated because notices informing workers of their rights have not been posted.