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Mendocino County Today: June 15, 2013

LAST WEEK the Santa Rosa Press Democrat ran a story titled, “Winegrowers facing labor hurdles as harvest season approaches.”

The story began “Grape growers and farmers throughout the state are facing a range of challenges finding and holding on to laborers as they head into harvest.”

That was followed by this claim: “State enforcement agencies are cracking down on wage and labor violations, labor groups and activists are targeting farm companies with negative campaigns, and fewer workers are crossing the border from Mexico, grape growers were told Friday at the annual trade show held by Sonoma County Winegrowers.”

And: “Unions have been emboldened by recent changes to the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act…”

Trouble is, there’s no evidence that any of that is true.


There’s only one “union” in California that might be “emboldened” by recent changes to the CALRA. That would be the United Farm Workers. A quick look at their webpage called “key campaigns” deals with immigration, heat-related injuries, a not-yet-passed bill to make it a bit easier for workers to join unions, the harm caused by methyl bromide and methyl iodide, etc. There’s nothing about “negative campaigns” against growers, nor does the UFW even have a facebook page.

There are no news stories, no press releases, no new government programs…

Nor could we find any evidence of “recent changes to the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act.” (There are some bills pending, but they’re far from enactment.)

The California Farm Bureau issued a report earlier this month called “On-farm labor: As harvest pace builds, farmers report shortages.”

What does the very conservative Farm Bureau think the reasons for labor shortages are?

“California Farm Bureau Federation Director of Labor Affairs Bryan Little, who also serves as chief operating officer for the Farm Employers Labor Service, said he believes the reasons for the shortages are similar to those reported last year, including an aging workforce, people not coming to California to work, and an improved Mexican economy. Plus, Little said, people in Mexico talk to their relatives here and learn that the US economy remains sluggish. ‘Everyone that I've talked to seems to be having trouble finding people,’ Little said. ‘The side-effect of short labor is that workers have a lot more leverage, so they can be pickier about what work they'll accept. I think growers are already adjusting to that by paying higher wages’.”

There’s nothing in that lengthy Farm Bureau report about agency crackdowns, negative campaigns, or any targeting of farm companies for anything.

So where does all this obviously baseless paranoia come from?


It turns out that the PD reporter, Cathy Bussewitz, went to a trade show (ironically sponsored by the Sonoma County Farm Bureau) and wrote down what a self-described labor attorney out of the central valley named Michael Saqui said as if he was some kind of authority. Mr. Saqui’s business depends on scaring growers into thinking their workers are out to get them, when actually all most workers are out to get is fair wages and working conditions.

Mr. Saqui rattled off a standard list of rural labor myths, regardless of truth or applicability, and Ms. Bussewitz duly wrote them down and the PD duly printed them. Just like Mr. Saqui wanted.

The only labor problem mentioned by Saqui that has any validity is the obvious fact that border crossings have become difficult lately and the country’s immigration problems remain in the hands of people who either don’t want to solve it or have no clue how to solve it.

The closest Mr. Saqui got to a specific labor problem was, “In one case, a tomato grower represented by Saqui did not know it had been hit with a labor relations complaint until the retailer that sold its tomatoes was targeted in a social media campaign, Saqui said. ‘We had no idea that they had filed unfair labor practices against us, because we had not been served with them,’ Saqui said.”

Does that sound credible to you? Mr. Saqui, a supposedly experienced attorney for ag employers, didn’t know that a complaint had been filed against his client?

And, does that even sound like a serious problem at all?

Of course not.

Nor does Mr. Saqui describe the “labor relations complaint” itself, just that he said he didn’t get served with it — which means it was a legitimate complaint.

We were unable to find any examples of a tomato retailer being targeted in a social media campaign. (There were some labor complaints about fast food joints using burger-tomatoes picked by underpaid workers in Florida back in 2005 or earlier. Surely Mr. Saqui couldn’t be referring to that case, could he?)

We wasted almost an hour of on-line searching and we could not find any evidence of any state agency cracking down on any farm labor violations. Nor could we find any evidence of “labor groups” (aka unions) targeting farm companies with negative campaigns.

We did find that fewer farmworkers are crossing the border from Mexico.

But we also found that some farm workers in marijuana country have discovered that growing pot pays more than the non-unionized mostly seasonal jobs offered by grape growers, most of which come with no benefits, and the few “benefits” that are offered (such as water, field latrines, transportation, etc.) are offered grudgingly or because they are legally required.

When it comes to farm labor issues, you’re actually better off going to the obviously biased reporting of the California Farm Bureau than you are of the supposedly “objective” reporting of the most prominent daily paper on the northcoast.


IN THE GRAND TRADITION of imperial fraud, Obama will provide weapons to the Syrian rebels, many of whom are Taliban-oriented fanatics. Now, within our lifetimes, we've had the Gulf of Tonkin pretext to kick off the failed war on Vietnam; conjured weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that destroyed that society, leaving it in a permanent state of civil war; a war on Afghanistan that will return that country to the Taliban and warlords as soon as we withdraw; and now we have a bogus pretext of poison warfare to obligate us for years to people who hate US. Meanwhile, here at home, social chaos and onrushing, full-on economic depression.



Time for the American People to Take Greater Charge

By Ralph Nader

The imaginative uses of the mighty presidency in American history and its bully pulpit have rarely been much above amateurish when it comes to helping people empower themselves. This has been the case even when the same party controls the White House and both Houses of Congress.

Consider the last opportunities when Clinton and Obama were in that enviable position, during 1993-1994 and 2009-2010, respectively. Both Clinton and Obama fell short, unable even to get an adequate public works agenda passed through Congress (Repair America) that would have produced good, un-exportable jobs in many communities.

Now Obama has lots of excuses as to why this and that cannot be accomplished. Due to his and the congressional Democrats’ inept political hands against the vulnerably vicious and corporatist Republican Party, Obama points to the Republican’s email Senate filibusters, and the stubborn postures of Reps. John Boehner and Eric Cantor as reasons for not really pushing, for example, for a very popular minimum wage that catches up with 1968, inflation-adjusted. (See

So let’s lower the bar and ask why Mr. Obama doesn’t just use his high visibility to put forces in motion that strengthen our democratic society without requiring legislation or tax revenues? Here are some suggestions, out of many:

1. Obama could announce his desire to speak to a convocation of leaders of national civic groups that have millions of members around the country. He could highlight their good works via the mass media. He could prompt more philanthropy, especially from the very rich, to these worthy organizations that work to help the poor, children, the environment, beleaguered communities and others in need. An annual increase of only $10 billion in private donations for more staff positions would produce more than 300,000 jobs a year and provide serious help to millions of people.

I wrote the president last year urging him to visit any Washington, D.C. hotel ballroom to meet with civic leaders, as did president-elect Jimmy Carter in 1976. The office of Michelle Obama replied that his schedule did not have time for such a gathering. Yet, he has gone to numerous distant factories to promote products, even going all the way to India to urge Indians to purchase Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Boeing airplanes.

2. After graduating from Columbia University, young Barack Obama worked for a few months at the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) – a large and well-regarded, student-funded public interest organization involved in numerous community improvements around the state – advocating justice, not charity.

PIRGs operate in about 30 states. Not once has Obama addressed their gatherings and urged that all colleges and universities should provide similar check-offs that would enable millions of students to develop extracurricular civic skills and experiences while improving their society.

Engaging civil society helps balance Obama’s exhortations to students to seek occupational training at institutions of higher education. The president has declined to use his community organizing reputation in New York and Chicago to focus the public and the media on such simple ways to strengthen our weakening democracy.

There is no need to dwell much on comparisons of how much time he has spent cloistered with very wealthy campaign contributors who are further undermining our democracy.

3. The warring president might expend some of his fame to bring attention to those Americans who are waging peace through direct field involvement, advocacy or with peace studies. The corporate-criminal class gets the presence of the president at trade association meetings, but not the likes of the American Friends Service Committee or Colman McCarthy’s Center for Teaching Peace working to expand peace studies curricula at high schools and colleges (

4. What about visiting events defending unions under attack by right-wing governors and their corporatist allies or encouraging workers in large companies to unionize as he subsidizes these corporate bosses with many programs?

Remarkably, President Obama studiously avoided going to Madison, Wisconsin in 2011 to support the rallying of workers against Governor Scott Walker’s moves to stripmine worker rights. He also banned Vice President Joe Biden (a self-styled union man) from accepting an invitation there by the Wisconsin Labor Federation.

By contrast, he walked across Lafayette Park in February 2011 to pay homage to the chronically selfish and anti-labor U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He could have gone around the corner to visit the AFL-CIO representing 13 million American workers, but he declined.

5. Championing, through check-off facilities, so that people can voluntarily band together around specific endeavors would be easy for the president. He could start by establishing check-offs for taxpayer watchdog associations on the 1040 tax return and periodic postal notices to residential addresses inviting people to join a postal consumers’ group. Corporations are massively over-represented compared to citizens at the councils of government.

All companies receiving corporate welfare from taxpayers should be required, as a condition of getting these subsidies, handouts and bailouts, to include in their bills and communications with customers invitations for consumers to band together and support nonprofit organizations with full-time consumer champions fighting for their rights.

Just about every industry in the country – banking, utilities, insurance, fuel, healthcare, food – is on the dole, one way or the other. This simple reciprocity would facilitate tens of millions of Americans to have an organized voice and expertise to defend and extend their livelihoods (

If President Obama sweats the small stuff, he will empower the American people to take greater charge of their government and their future over the destructive and cowardly corporatism that now dominates Washington, D.C.

(Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.)


REGARDING last week’s item about billionaire Jeffrey Skoll’s local property known as Shenoa and his direct pumping from the river during record low flows, a knowledgeable local writes that Skoll’s pumping is probably legal: “The Shenoa property has had permitted riparian water rights to Rancheria Creek since July 19, 1956. The permit — though hard to find — can be seen on the internet. Water from the river was used for pasture irrigation from the late 1950s through at least the late 1980s. This permitted use predates EVERY current vineyard on the floor of Anderson Valley and certainly predates the wholesale granting of riparian rights in the 1990s (?) to some 50 or 60 vineyards (or, in some cases, individuals) that were pumping water illegally from the Navarro River watershed before they were caught. Although there has been a long hiatus between the previous use of the riparian right and the current use, it is permitted use. In short, Shenoa and Jeff Skoll have done nothing wrong here. I think acknowledging such would be a nice gesture.”


CONGRESSMAN HUFFMAN’S LATEST STUNT: Your Congressman Will Limit Himself to $4.50 Per Day For Food — for a Week.

Atta, Huff! Press release from the office of Jared Huffman:

Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) will take the SNAP Challenge next week, limiting himself to $4.50 per day for food, the average daily benefit for a recipient of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as “food stamps.” This coincides with consideration of the House Farm Bill, authored by Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) which cuts $20 billion from SNAP. This bill will eliminate food assistance to nearly two million low-income Americans, and shuts 210,000 children out of free or reduced-cost school meals. Huffman will participate in the SNAP challenge for five days, starting Monday, June 17 and will keep a record on Twitter and Facebook.

“SNAP is a lifeline for millions of Americans families who cannot afford to eat without this modest assistance. That’s why the proposal by House Republican Leadership to slash funding for SNAP is so unconscionable,” Congressman Huffman said. “We need Congress to understand what these cruel austerity measures mean on a personal level rather than a generic statistical sample, which is why I’m taking the SNAP Challenge next week and learning what it means to live off of the average SNAP recipient’s $4.50 a day.”

47 million, or one in seven Americans, receives SNAP benefits. Nearly 75% of SNAP recipients are families with children, and more than a quarter of SNAP recipients are households with seniors or people with disabilities. Under the House Farm Bill, 850,000 households would lose an average of $90—nearly a full week’s worth of groceries—per month.

A provision in the bill would cause many working households to lose all their SNAP benefits merely because they own a car. For many families on the North Coast, a car isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity for families who commute to work.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, nearly 95 percent of federal SNAP spending goes directly to families to buy food. The remaining funding goes toward administrative costs, including reviews to determine that applicants are eligible, monitoring of retailers that accept SNAP, and anti-fraud activities.

— Andrew Goff (Courtesy,


THIRTY-EIGHT POETS with other friends of the lively word, participated in the 38th Anniversary marathon Mendocino Spring Poetry Celebration at the Hill House — the ninth annual revival of this event, commemorating earlier readings in Mendocino town, as well as early activity in the ongoing poetry  communities of Point Arena, Ukiah, Willits, and elsewhere in the north counties.   Heard were Dan Essman, Zo Abell, Theresa Whitehill, Oasis, Jay Frankston, Dan Roberts, Roberta  Wertinger, Louisa Arenow, David Cesario, Steve Hellman, Jeanine Pfeiffer, Janferie Stone, Jewels  Marcus, Janice Blue, Marylin Motherbear Scott, Maureen Eppstein, Scott Croghan, Joe Smith,  Bill Bradd, Gordon Black, Tara Sufiana, Jacquelin Hewett, Cheri Ause, Janet DeBar, ruth weiss, Sharon Doubiago, Robert Yoder, Zida Borsich, Craig Chaffin, Michael Riedell, Linda Noel, Laura  West, Ethel Mays, Mitchell Holman, Rob Haughwout, Virginia Sharkey, Debra Pollen, Sam Edwards.  Pictures of the readers may be viewed here:  Bassist Richard Cooper provided music. Choice comestibles were served. The readings were held in two sessions---one beginning at noon, the other at 6:00 PM, each with a break. Between the two sessions, participants enjoyed the town and the coastal headlands.  Dan Roberts conducted the readings and recorded poems to be broadcast in coming weeks on KZYX&Z,  90.7 FM in Philo, Public Broadcasting for Mendocino County.  Dan's radio show, RhythmRunningRiver, admirably combines music and poetry. It is heard from  2:00 to 4:00 PM, West Coast time, on alternate Sundays, and streams at  The event was produced by Gordon Black. Keep reading, keep writing!

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