Farmworkers Picket At Ste. Genevieve

Glen Larum, Editor. The Fort Stockton Pioneer. Sunday, July 13, 1986. No. 50. P1,6

There are some sour grapes in the vineyard at Ste. Genevieve.

About 30 farmworkers were picketing the winery Friday, claiming that pay promises had been broken.

According to Jesus Moya, director of the International Union of Agricultural and Industrial Workers, the field workers were demanding that “the powerful wire consortium of SRGC and the University of Texas” pay them $4.50 an hour.

The University currently leases the vineyard to SGRC- which includes Tony Sanchez Oil and Gas Corp. of San Antonio; Gilldorn Financial Co. of Austin; Richter Co., a French grape nursery; and Cordier Inc.. a French wine producer.

One source with SGRC said the grape harvesting and winery activity was not affected by the picket line, however.

Striking farmworkers are complaining that they had been promised the $4.50 an hour wage in a meeting Wednesday between the company and the workers.

According to an unconfirmed report workers were later told that they would be paid on a piecework basis, rather than at an hourly rate.

According to Moya, the workers are also asking for a union contract and want the company to “cease its arbitrary practices of firing workers without justification.”

Moya has charged that FCI Inc. (Fabricators and Contractors, Inc., an Odessa firm) has dismissed workers in the past without giving the workers reasons for their dismissal.

This week’s picket line is just the latest in a series of confrontations between the IUA&IW, which has been working since last summer to unionize the vineyard work force, and the Ste. Genevieve consortium.

And it comes on the eve of the vineyard’s first-ever “Blessing of the Harvest” ceremony, which is scheduled for Sunday evening. Vineyard and winery personnel were preparing for as many as 1000 local residents to attend.

The union conducted a 32-mile march in early November, capping a summer of organizing activities, and have called for a boycott of Ste. Genevieve wines.

In April, the union petitioned the UT regents for better working conditions, including sanitation and pesticide controls. Texas Rural Legal Aid attorney Stephen C. McIntyre, who filed the petition March 31, said UT bears some responsibility because it is the landowner.

Texas Department of Agriculture officials reportedly found that aerial sprayings at the vineyards in May 1985 violated the state’s agriculture code.

Eight farmworkers said they were sprayed with a pesticide which has been described as having “moderate to low toxicity” and the IUA&IW also has a suit pending in 83rd District Court, charging that the Pecos County Commissioners Court violated the state’s Open Meetings Act by conducting a closed door meeting to discuss a petition of grievances filed by the union.

The lawsuit also alleges that there was no notice posted stating the petition would be considered, nor do the minutes of the meeting reflect that “the presiding officer (County Judge Charles Warnock) announced that the petition would be considered in a closed session.”

The suit, filed by McIntyre, goes on to point out that a related complaint filed with the UT regents was openly discussed in a June 5 meeting before an audience of “over one hundred people.”

The complaint included allegations that the UT System and Pecos County Sherriff Bruce Wilson were involved in police intimidation of the union, according to the suit.