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Employee Free Choice Act Stories: Rodolfo Chavez

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Former truck driver 

Miami, FL

Rodolfo Chavez used to work as a delivery truck driver at Goya Foods in Miami, Florida. But after ten years of service to the very profitable company, he was fired for supporting a union.

Rodolfo and his co-workers' story is a classic example of why the current NLRB process doesn't work. The Goya workers first voted for union representation through UNITE (now UNITE HERE) back in 1998 by an overwhelming margin. Yet, more than eight years later, despite winning every single decision brought before the NLRB, they still don't have a union contract or the improvements in wages and benefits that comes with it.

When workers began organizing, Goya launched a vicious anti-union campaign of harassment and intimidation. And in an order to make workers give up on forming a union, Goya has exploited weaknesses in the country's labor laws, dragging out the process with repeated delays. The company even illegally withdrew recognition of the union.

"Management tried to intimidate me," says Roldolfo. "They gave me a warning for wearing a UNITE t-shirt under my uniform and a UNITE cap. They put out a memo -- something that they'd never done before -- that said you had to wear a Goya shirt and pants. I took the cap off and kept wearing the shirt underneath. Then they gave me a written warning for having a union shirt."

The wife of Rodolfo's boss even tried to scare Rodolfo away from the union. She called Rodolfo's wife and warned her that her husband's union activities might put him in danger. "My wife told her that she supported me in my decision," Rodolfo recalls. "Then my boss' wife said: 'He's working out on the street. He could get hurt.'"

In 2001, Rodolfo was finally fired for what management called "insubordination." "They were looking for a reason to get rid of me," says Chavez. "They changed a rule and added a new inspection of our trucks at the end of the day. The inspection took a half hour and no one wanted to stand around for an extra thirty minutes and not get paid for it. I got fired for saying the company should have negotiated the change with the union first."

Only five or six of the original drivers that voted for the union are still working at Goya. Most have been fired like Rodolfo; others left because the pressure was too great.

Chavez has serious doubts Goya workers will ever be able to get a contract. "Not until we have stronger laws," Chavez says. "I hope the workers are successful one day, but the company keeps delaying. It's been six years since the board ruled. How much longer will it take? And who will be there to benefit from it?"


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