By Katy Grimes
One of the most significant labor relations fights in the country is currently taking place in California’s Central Valley. The California state agency mandated by law to be an impartial farmworkers’ advocate between employers and unions is “in cahoots” with the United Farm Workers labor union. At issue are the legal tactics and scruples of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board.
A state superior court judge told an Agricultural Labor Relations Board attorney in 2013 that it appeared they were “in cahoots” with the United Farm Workers labor union. Even an independent investigation has confirmed that this is so.
Since being appointed ALRB General Counsel in 2011 by Gov. Jerry Brown, Sylvia Torres-Guillén has transformed her office from ineffective but impartial workers’ advocate to a hive of United Farm Workers activist attorneys.
That advocacy is against the Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, which mandates the ALRB to be completely impartial between employers and unions. By openly favoring the UFW, Torres-Guillén and her staff are violating the law.
A study of the ALRB activist lawyers’ professional conduct and social networking shows that some of Torres-Guillén’s attorneys have lifelong relations with the UFW in ways that threaten the board’s credibility and authority.
As far back as August, 2013, California Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Y. Hamilton, Jr., took ALRB Regional Director Silas Shawver to task for working overtime to stop farmworkers from voting on whether or not to decertify the UFW as their collective bargaining representative.
Judge Hamilton accused Shawver of “overreach” of his legal authority in trying to stop the vote. “So the Court is very suspect of, one, the ALRB’s position here,” Hamilton said. “It almost seems like it’s in cahoots” with the UFW. “And the Court finds it very troubling that the ALRB is taking such a position, especially sitting in a prosecutorial role,” he told Shawver, who is a lawyer. “That is a role you should not be taking when you sit as a prosecutor.”
A search of publicly available social media sites and donor records show close personal relationships between ALRB lawyers hired under Torres-Guillén, and the UFW, and UFW-related causes.
Torres-Guillén, in her present position as ALRB General Counsel, was the keynote speaker at the UFW’s 50th anniversary gala in 2012. Perched before a Cesar Chavez portrait, she pledged to the union that she would “regain their trust.” Speaking at a 2015 forum marking the 40th anniversary of the ALRB, Torres-Guillén quoted glowingly from Chavez.
The ALRB has two regional directors, both of whom are attorneys: Alegría de la Cruz, who runs the Salinas office; and Silas Shawver, who heads the office in Visalia. Both worked together on the California Rural Legal Assistance. A report filed with the California superior court alleges that Shawver is the godfather of de la Cruz’s child.
Salinas Regional Director Alegría de la Cruz: 3rd generation UFW
A third-generation UFW supporter, since childhood de la Cruz has been steeped in UFW activism and organizing. She is the granddaughter of the late Jesse de la Cruz, an early female organizer of the UFW a half-century ago. Both her parents “were also well-known and active UFW organizers,” according to a 2013 complaint
before a California superior court by Anthony Raimondo, an attorney for farm laborer Francisco Napoles. “In fact, her parents met on a campaign for the UFW and later married,” Raimondo said. “When speaking of her upbringing, Ms. De la Cruz boasted that her parents ‘were both organizers and raised four kids in the movement. By the time I was old enough to walk and talk, I was doing outreach in front of supermarkets, collecting signatures on petitions.”
A photograph posted online shows de la Cruz as an infant, being held in Cesar Chavez’s lap. Her brother appears on another social media page with a large UFW logo tattooed across his back.
In the 2006 CRLA Annual Report, de la Cruz recalled her relations with UFW founder Cesar Chavez when she was a seven-year-old child:
“Tell me who your grandparents are, Alegría,” Chavez would ask her repeatedly, pointedly, as if preparing her for an exam. “My parents, they’re farm workers – and organizers.”
“Your parents, who are your parents?”
“My parents are organizers.”
“What about you, Alegría? What are you going to be?”
“I don’t know,” she’d say, a typical response of any child age 7 or so.
But he wouldn’t let her off that easy.
“I’ll tell you, Alegría. You’re going to be a lawyer. Because the next step to organizing is the law. We need people who understand where we come from to be lawyers, judges, and legislators.”
Alegría de la Cruz did just what Chavez predicted and grew up to become a lawyer. While ALRB Regional Director in Salinas, de la Cruz was Facebook friends with UFW Vice President Armando Elenes. She donated to a Kickstarter.com project to make “Cesar’s Last Fast,” a documentary lionizing UFW founder Cesar Chavez. De la Cruz argued in front of Judge Hamilton to force the UFW contract on Gerawan employees, while a thousand of the workers were outside the courtroom opposing it.
De la Cruz operates a separate Facebook page under the pseudonym Valencia Gael. On that page, she is friends with UFW Vice President Armando Elenes and UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez.
ALRB Visalia Regional Director Silas Shawver’s UFW ties
On his Facebook page, Shawver is friends with UFW National Vice President Armando Elenes, former UFW regional director Gustavo Aguirre, UFW labor organizer Yolanda Chacon, UFW representative Eri Fernandez, UFW external organizer Reyna Madrigal Castellanos, UFW organizer Maria Gallegos Martinez, UFW organizer and campaign coordinator Jennifer Hernandez, UFW organizer Lupe Martinez, and UFW Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson.
David Bacon, a former UFW organizer who is now a writer for Al Jazeera and who has covered the Gerawan farmworker controversy for the Qatar-owned propaganda outlet, is also a Facebook friend of Shawver. (The Qatar government and ruling royal family ban labor unions in their country.)
Shawver’s Facebook page says he lives in Mexico City. His Facebook friends are not visible to those who are not among his 710 listed friends.
Photos of Shawver on a former girlfriend’s Flickr page show the ALRB attorney performing acrobatics while wearing a UFW shirt. (Photo 5)
Those photos have become the subject of a YouTube video and animated graphics casting doubt on Shawver’s impartiality as an ALRB regional director and attorney.
Torres-Guillén’s UFW activist hiring strategy
ALRB General Counsel Torres-Guillén’s strategy to hire UFW loyalists in her rapidly expanded staff of lawyers first came to light in 2013. In a situation similar to the better-known Gerawan Farming union decertification controversy, workers at Arnaudo Brothers, a San Joaquin Valley asparagus grower, tried to fight the resurgent UFW after the union had abandoned the farmworkers for nearly three decades.
Francisco Napoles, a field laborer at Arnaudo Brothers, a Central Valley asparagus grower, petitioned the state superior court to block the ALRB from forcing a UFW contract on him and his fellow workers. In his court filing, Napoles alleged that “the ALRB has adopted a specific hiring strategy to staff the Regional Offices with individuals who are closely aligned with the UFW, and in some cases, tied closely to each other, for the purpose of creating a closed cadre of individuals who will pursue a pro-UFW agenda.”
He specifically referenced Alegría de la Cruz, whose behavior he described in the complaint as very similar to the behavior subsequently documented about de la Cruz’s comrade regional director in Visalia, Shawver, in his campaign against Gerawan workers.
Napoles’ petition showed information that “longer term [ALRB] staff who have been willing to align themselves with the UFW’s organizational goals have done so to protect their careers, while those who refuse to be beholden to the UFW are marginalized and/or forced out of the agency. As a result, the ALRB has created a culture at the Regional Office where protecting the UFW is considered one and the same as protecting the rights of farm workers.”