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Ste. Michelle Vineyard Workers Vote For Union Foley Helped Mediate State’s First Union Election For Farm Workers

Vineyard workers at the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery have voted to unionize under the United Farm Workers of America in the state’s first union election for farm workers.

Friday’s vote was 53-33, the union and winery confirmed.

Election results were tabulated by a five-member commission agreed upon by the two sides and headed by former U.S. House Speaker Tom Foley of Spokane.

Eight workers at a separate company ranch voted unanimously against the union. Those workers will not be in the bargaining unit.

“This was an important moment for our employees and the winery,” winery spokeswoman Katie Sims said Friday night. “We worked hard to make the vote happen.”

She said it would be up to the commission to certify the results, “then it will be on to bargaining with the union to reach a contract.”

The two sides have five days to submit objections to the election results. The Foley commission will then certify the results, signaling the start of bargaining.

David Martinez, UFW secretary-treasurer, said the vote was a credit to the tenacity of Ste. Michelle workers who supported the union through eight years of demonstrations and boycotts to achieve representation.

An agreement that set up Friday’s election between Stimson Lane Vineyards, the winery’s parent company, and the union requires that any unresolved bargaining issues be submitted to binding arbitration.

Employee Gerardo Rios of Sunnyside, who works at Cold Creek, a vineyard east of Yakima, said he was delighted by the results.

“All we are trying to do is assure more benefits for our futures and our children’s futures,” he said.

Foley called the election historic. But he stopped short of calling it a model for the future of farm-labor organizing in Washington.

“It takes a desire on the part of both sides to reach such an agreement,” Foley said. “Whether it is a model depends on other circumstances. Certainly from our viewpoint, there was exemplary conduct on both sides.”

The winery and the union had been locked in an eight-year dispute over union representation.

The winery had rejected earlier demands for a union election, citing the lack of a state agricultural labor relations act that would protect the interests of both parties.

Last fall, the winery agreed to allow workers to hold a secret ballot election, but the union demanded a card-check election or immediate negotiations for a contract without going through the formality of an election.

Negotiations broke off in early January but an agreement brokered by national leaders of the AFL-CIO led to Friday’s vote.

A nationwide boycott against Chateau Ste. Michelle and other Stimson Lane wine products appeared to have little effect on sales. Chateau Ste. Michelle has experienced double-digit increases in sales, spokesman Mark Jennings said.

But he added the appearance of problems in the minds of consumers was troubling to the winery.


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