About two weeks ago, Giumarra Vineyards gave their employees a pleasant little surprise- the Giumarra Vineyards Employee Handbook. However, workers were told to sign the middle page in the employment manual, or they would not receive their checks. Some were told to sign it and then read what it said when they got home. The following is the infamous “middle page” that the workers were coerced into signing, as well as an additional extract from the “Employment at Will” section of the handbook:
Employee Acknowledgement (aka “The Middle Page”)
“I have received my copy of the Company’s Employee Handbook, a summary of the points and areas covered by heat illness training, and, a copy of the Sexual Harassment, and, Discrimination and Harassment publications. I understand and agree that is my responsibility to read and familiarize myself with the policies and procedures contained in the Handbook. I understand that any and all policies or practices can be changed at any time by the Company. The Company reserves the right to change my hours, wages and working conditions at any time. I understand and agree that other than the President of the Company, no person has authority to enter into any agreement, express or implied, for employment for any specific period of time, or to make any agreement for employment other than at-will; only the President of the Company has the authority to make any such agreement and then only in writing. I understand and agree that nothing in the Employee Handbook creates or is intended to create a promise or representation of continued employment and that employment at the Company is employment at-will.; employment may be terminated at the will of either the Company or me.” (GV Employee Handbook, pg.33)
“You are free to terminate your employment with the company at any time, with or without cause or reason, just as the Company has the right to terminate your employment at any time, with or without cause or a reason. Although the Company may terminate your employment for cause, it is not required. This policy is called ‘at-will’ employment.” (GV Employee Handbook, pg.2)
Now, there are three key issues involved with this Giumarra Vineyards Employee Handbook. One is the way the Company went about getting workers to sign the handbook, which was essentially through threats and intimidation. Withholding the checks of farm workers who make very little money to begin with, and who depend on their check to support their families, was a nasty tactic employed by the Company. In addition the Company made no attempt to explain to the workers, a good portion of whom are illiterate, what information the Employee Handbook contained nor was an intent made to explain to the workers what exactly the middle page that the workers were coerced into signing was about. This was the first injustice. The second injustice relates to the text within the handbook itself, especially the sections regarding Employment At-Will. These pieces within the Handbook essentially state, in writing, that the Company has the right to fire its employees with or without just cause. Now, given the fact that Giumarra is a company with employees, the power to hire and discharge workers is fully within its jurisdiction. However, given the fact that favoritism and intimidation is highly prevalent in the work environment at Giumarra, workers could be fired for something like sticking up for themselves when their foreman talks down to them. Family members of the foreman could be violating “company policies” left and right but have a harder time being fired than non-family members who comply to the same policies. La carrilla also has a role to play in this as well. Maybe a worker has been taking “too many” rests or water breaks, isn’t “keeping up with production,” and therefore warrants termination. The bottom line is this- under current company policies Giumarra workers are not protected. And if a worker can be fired with or without just cause, then this policy is not just. Finally, the third injustice within the Employee Handbook relates to how the workers “understand that any and all policies or practices can be changed at any time by the Company,” and “The Company reserves the right to change my hours, wages and working conditions at any time.” Rhetorically, what does this statement intend to say? It is basically telling the workers that the Company has all the power. The company controls the policies, working conditions, wages, and hours, and they can change them whenever they want. Once again, this policy is fully within Giumarra’s jurisdiction, given that it is a company. But more than anything, this is an attempt by te Guimarra to mask who has the real power in the company-employee relationship. The Company cannot survive without its workers. Who sprays the grapes with pesticides to protect them from diseases? Who clears away the dried leaves from the vines so the grapes can ripen and mature in the sun? Who supervises the irrigation of the crops? Who packs the grapes so that they can be bought by consumers in the supermarket? Heck for that matter who loads up the trucks so that the grape boxes can even be brought to the supermarkets? Farm workers. If 1, 500 farm workers did not enter the fields for 8, 9, 10 hours six days a week, the grapes would rot on the vines in Guimarra’s weed-ravaged fields and this multi-million dollar Company would lose all its profits. And this is why organizing and the Union is so important. It’s time to shift the power balance to those who really have the power.