Tom Foley will help supervise a possible end to one of the state’s longest-running labor disputes this summer when a group of vineyard workers decides whether it wants to join a union.
The former House speaker will head a five-member commission to oversee the first farm union election in Washington state.
“He was flattered to have the confidence of both sides,” Foley spokeswoman Janet Gilpatrick said Friday.
About 85 vineyard laborers for Stimson Lane Vineyards & Estates will vote next month on whether to join the United Farm Workers.
Stimson owns Chateau Ste. Michelle winery and several other wineries, and is the state’s largest wine producer. The union has boycotted Chateau Ste. Michelle wines for nearly eight years in hopes of forcing a labor election.
Earlier this month, the union agreed to suspend the boycott and the company agreed to a vote by June 30 for all regular employees who had been on the job as of Jan. 23. That includes both American citizens and documented foreign nationals, a Stimson spokesman said.
The company agreed to remain non-partisan during the organizing campaign and give the union access to employees for up to seven days before the election during nonworking hours.
If the union wins the vote, it will negotiate a contract for the workers. If the two sides can’t come to terms, they will agree to binding arbitration with Foley the likely arbitrator.
If the union loses the vote, it would not resume the boycott or attempts to organize the company’s farm workers for a year.
Other commissioners overseeing the election are John Anderson, chairman of the Washington Wine Commission, Maria Elena Durazo, president of the Los Angeles-based Local 11 of the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Union, Guadalupe Gamboa, project director of Sunnyside, Wash. based-Evergreen Legal Services, Farmworker Division and Lyn Tangen, co-owner of Caterina Winery in Spokane.
Foley was suggested by the AFL-CIO. The former 15-term Democratic congressman has strong ties to organized labor and once served as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
Gilpatrick also noted that he spent part of his 5 1/2 years as speaker arbitrating disputes of all kinds in the House. He currently serves as a consultant on international law for a Washington, D.C., law firm.
The election would be the first of its kind among farm workers in Washington, Gilpatrick said.
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