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[whitespace] Antonio De Ramirez Guns and Rosa: Rosa De Ramirez honors her late son, Antonio, above, every year in Watsonville's Mother's Day Peace March.


Million Mom March

Like any proud mother would do, Rosa De Ramirez shows me a framed eighth-grade graduation-day picture of her son, Antonio.

Antonio Ramirez Valdivia wanted to go to Cabrillo College, play professional fútbol and work as a mechanic.

"His dreams went with him," De Ramirez says.

Six years ago, 19-year-old Valdivia was shot to death at Manresa Beach.

In 1997, De Ramirez marched in the first Watsonville Mother's Day Peace March along with about 200 other mothers, fathers and siblings who had lost family members to gun violence in Santa Cruz County.

"I had to do something about it because I lost a son who was so loved," De Ramirez says. On Mother's Day, May 14, the third annual march will be held from 9am to noon in the Watsonville Plaza.

Now the rest of the country is catching on.

On May 14, mothers and "honorary moms" will march on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and in 43 cities nationwide in the first Million Mom March. The message to Congress is clear, say MMM organizers: Enact stricter gun laws this year or face a permanent time-out in November.

"It's nothing radical," says central coast regional coordinator Beth Kotkin. "We want laws requiring trigger locks, detailed background checks, sensible cooling-off periods and safer handguns."

As Nüz goes to press, the Santa Cruz City Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution proclaiming May 14 as Million Mom March Day.

"We do this for the ones who have left us already," De Ramirez says. "It's painful to talk about it, but I'm healing little by little when I talk to other parents about this because they still have their children."

Jobs for Humans?

Half Moon Bay-based Odwalla, the "juice for humans" company started in Santa Cruz 20 years ago, has long benefited from a socially conscious image. But for some, the act is wearing a bit thin.

Claiming the company has repeatedly cut back workers' compensation packages in recent years, 14 of the company's 16 Santa Cruz-area workers have signed a statement requesting representation by Teamsters Local 912 of Watsonville. The warehouse workers and route drivers will hold a press conference today (April 26) at 3pm at the county building to present their petition to the company.

Labor law permits companies to accept signed union cards as proof of worker sentiment in lieu of a National Labor Relations Board-sanctioned election. Often, unions ask in advance for a "card-check neutrality" agreement guaranteed by a third party because they distrust NLRB procedures, which can result in lengthy delays.

On March 7, Assemblymember Fred Keeley, Board of Supervisors Chair Mardi Wormhoudt, Cabrillo College Trustee John Laird, and the mayors of Watsonville and Santa Cruz, Oscar Rios and Keith Sugar, wrote Odwalla CEO Stephen Williamson asking him to sign such an agreement. Williamson declined, citing NLRB law.

"Dear Mr. [sic] Wormhoudt," began his reply, "... the only reliable way to determine whether an uncoerced majority of Odwalla employees wish union representation is through an NLRB secret ballot election."

But when asked whether Odwalla would recognize the union based on signed union cards, or even guarantee that an NLRB election result would be honored, Williamson pleaded ignorance of the law, saying he would follow the advice of the company's lawyers.

"Since I have never been through this before, my inclination is to play this straight up and do what is in the best interests of all the stakeholders."

But Williamson has been through this before. In September 1998, 19 of 28 workers at the company's San Jose center signed cards to affiliate with Teamsters Local 296. Odwalla insisted on an election and mounted a major PR campaign, according to Teamsters officials, to dissuade workers from unionizing.

The strategy worked. At the last minute, fearing defeat, union officials called off the election.

Santa Cruz Odwalla driver Bill Farrington says workers' compensation packages have declined four times in four years, forcing workers to seek protection in collective bargaining.

"I've never been down this road before," Farrington says, "and I never thought I would with Odwalla."

Ron Maclennan, another Santa Cruz driver, says he asked Williamson for a time commitment on the company's latest deal but was refused. "We thought it was time for a contract," Maclennan says.

Odwalla has lost money since an E. coli contamination in 1996 that resulted in one death. But the firm recently merged with Saco, Maine, juice producer Fresh Samantha, and financial statements for the latest quarter reveal a 30 percent increase in sales. Last December, Williamson won a pay increase of approximately 14 percent.

Negotiations may already be in trouble. Without naming names, Maclennan says he was told by a "low-level supervisor" that the company "would never allow a union," and that if the workers voted for one they would be locked out.

Williamson denies this. "I've never suggested or said that," he says. "It sounds inflammatory."


Teaching assistants at UC-Santa Cruz nabbed the media coverage last week, but they aren't the only ones unhappy with the university's labor policies.

The Coalition of University Employees (CUE), which represents clerical workers, filed its own unfair labor practices charge against UC on April 18--the day of the TAs' one-day strike.

"This past week, the UC has gone back on agreements that were already made," says Jennifer Goodheart, local CUE president and UCSC bargaining team member. Such bad-faith bargaining tactics are illegal because they delay contract negotiations, Goodheart says. CUE has been negotiating a system-wide first contract with UC since 1998.

CUE represents 8,000 clerical workers at the nine campuses and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, including between 600 and 800 employees at UCSC.

UC-system spokesman Brad Hayward calls the charges "inaccurate."

"It seems to be based on some misunderstanding," Hayward says. "We are committed to bargaining in good faith and we hope to reach an agreement as soon as possible."

The university's track record suggests otherwise. Since employees gained the right to bargain collectively, unions have filed more than 650 unfair labor practice charges against UC.

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From the April 26-May 3, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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