Chateau Ste. Michelle farm workers sign first union contract in state history
by Jeff Switzer
Representatives for 180 farm workers from Stimson Lane Vineyards and Estates signed a union contract Oct. 31 which will cover full-time and temporary farm workers who tend wine grapes for Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest wineries.
The contract marks the first time since 1972 that farm workers outside of California will be protected by a United Farm Workers contract.
Farm workers from the winery unanimously ratified the agreement on Oct. 22.
According to the United Farm Workers (UFW), more than 60 percent of Chateau Ste. Michelle's workers voted to be represented by the UFW in a June 2 secret ballot election. The vote was supervised by an independent five-person commission headed by former U.S. House Speaker Tom Foley.
The balloting followed a joint agreement signed by the winery and the UFW that guaranteed a contract after workers chose the union. Negotiations between the UFW and Stimson Lane began on June 19.
"Our company is pleased that the contract negotiations are now completed," said Stimson Lane spokesman Mark Jennings. "This is a fair contract and with its signing we can now devote our entire focus to producing world-class wines."
David Martinez, chief negotiator for UFW, says that the two groups have finally declared peace and gave credit to Stimson, saying that they already pay the highest wages. He said both sides were very elequent and passionate in what they thought was fair.
"No other seasonal workers we know of have any benefits," Martinez said. He said he was "blown away" that the plan the workers got is the best of the six plans the UFW offers.
The contract includes hourly pay from $5.75 per hour to $9.80 per hour for six job classifications, amounting to approximately a 5.5 percent wage increase.
The contract also includes complete family medical and dental coverage, a pension plan, job security for regular and seasonal workers, a grievance and arbitration procedure, and health and safety rules for protections from pesticides.
Temporary workers will qualify for benefits after 800 hours of work, and recalls and layoffs will be based on seniority.
Meal-time breaks, paid rest periods, paid vacations, and 11 paid holidays are also included in the contract.
The Friday following Thanksgiving was traded to have Good Friday off, as more workers would want to take that day off and would qualify; and Cesar Chavez's Mar. 31 birthday will be a paid holiday in exchange for New Year's Day.
Both the farm workers and Stimson agreed not to denigrate each other. The workers agreed not to strike or boycott in exchange for the benefits.
The contract expires May 31, 1997.