University Regents May Hear Farmworkers’ Case

Odessa American. Thursday, May 22, 1986

Fort Stockton- A dispute between grape-picking migrant workers and the management of a vineyard on state-owned land may go before University of Texas regents next month.

“The fact that we are meeting and talking is progress,” said Stephen McIntyre of the Hereford office of Texas Rural Legal Aid Inc., which is representing the migrant workers.

McIntyre said he wants the university, which owns the land, to let a 10-member panel mediate the dispute and make non-binding recommendations to regents. He said he will make a formal proposal to that effect when university regents convene June 5 in Austin.

McIntyre had earlier tried to persuade the university to convene a closed-door conference at the Texas Tech University School of Law on April 19 to discuss the workers. But W.O. Schultz, an associate general counsel for the university, said “no such meeting took place.”

Schultz added: “This is not the kind of thing to air in the media.”

As many as 150 migrant workers in six weeks are scheduled to pick grapes at the Ste. Genevieve Vineyards in Pecos County west of Fort Stockton on University of Texas land. The site is about 75 miles south of Odessa on Interstate 10.

McIntyre envisions a 10-member panel including union leader Jesus Moya, Schultz, Pecos County Sheriff Bruce Wilson, representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, legal counsel from GRC Inc. (operator of the vineyard), a representative from the office of Attorney General Jim Mattox and other university representatives.

McIntyre’s group has championed the rights of Texas farm workers while drawing fire from growers, who claim the legal group is misguided. McIntyre said he hopes the grievances can be settled by the time picking begins in mid-June.

The grievances McIntyre said he will present to the UT board of regents claim the workers must endure:

  • Working conditions without adequate toilet facilities and water.
  • Unlawful surveillance by the Pecos County Sherriff’s Department.
  • Pesticide abuse.
  • Violations by the university and GRC Inc. of the International Union of Agriculture and Industrial Workers’ rights.

The Texas Department of Agriculture has concluded that two aerial pesticide companies working in the vineyard did not comply with state regulations last year, according to Deborah Brown, an attorney representing the department.

Ken’s Aerial Service of Fort Stockton and Lukins Flying Service of Pecos were in “non-compliance” with state laws during pesticide applications at the vineyards in May and June 1985, Brown wrote in a recent letter to the Hereford legal aid group.

She added, however, that the state’s agriculture department was working with the university and GRC Inc. “to ensure the safety of all farm workers.”

The dispute between the workers, who are led by Moya, and the vineyard management has existed for more than 12 months, said McIntyre.

Moya had previously and that the workers wanted benefits such as a health plan and vacation and holiday pay.

Last November, the workers staged a 30-mile march to protest working conditions, and Moya has led a boycott of the winery for alleged violations of U.S. Department of labor regulations.

McIntyre said he is as of yet uncertain how to present all the allegations to the board of regents. But establishing a panel to review the facts is the first priority, he said.

McIntyre said findings from the Texas Department of Health’s investigation into allegations of field sanitation violations should be ready for review by mid-June.