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The Ventura County Star, West County Edition

Thursday January 17, 2002

By Leslie Marquez, Staff Writer


In another blow to Pictsweet Mushroom Farms, an administrative law judge has ruled that ex-worker and union supporter Fidel Andrade was unjustly fired in May for his union activities.

Andrade, 44, of Camarillo must also be hired back at the Ventura farm, and he should be given back pay, Judge Douglas Gallop wrote in a decision the United Farm Workers announced Wednesday.

This is the third time the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board has sided with the union. The UFW and Pictsweet have been involved in a bitter labor dispute since late 1999.

Gallop's decision also says Pictsweet shows animosity toward UFW supporters.

Los Angeles-based attorney Barbara Krieg said she was not authorized to comment about the decision and referred calls to Pictsweet officials in Bell, Tenn. They were not available for comment Wednesday and Ventura County officials also would not comment.

Pictsweet officials can appeal Gallop's decision but it's not known if they will.

Andrade, the father of six, said he hopes Pictsweet does not appeal.

"It's been difficult for my family, financially, because I don't have a stable job," Andrade said. "I like to work there and I want to return to work there because we are trying to get a contract."

Andrade was fired after he got into an argument with his supervisor, Augustine Villanueva, who is also Andrade's cousin. Villanueva was a leader in trying to get the union decertified.

The supervisor claimed Andrade was fired because he slapped Villanueva on his hand or arm during the argument and had blocked him from leaving a mushroom barn. Andrade claimed he had grabbed Villanueva's hand, which was in his face, and he denied blocking his cousin from leaving.

Gallop ruled that Villanueva was upset about an earlier confrontation the two men had. Andrade, a union leader at the plant, had stepped in to defend a fellow union supporter. Gallop wrote that Andrade's actions in that incident were protected by law, and that Andrade's response in the second incident was justified.

Pictsweet had not fired a worker involved in a past dispute in which that worker had threatened to kill a union supporter but Andrade's case was treated differently, Gallop wrote.

Pictsweet's past action shows it treats union supporters with animosity, he wrote. Other anti-union incidents have also occurred at the plant, Gallop said.

Gallop wrote that a supervisor sarcastically referred to Andrade and another union supporter as "know-it-alls." He added there's a "predisposition to blame them (union workers) in disputed cases of misconduct."

The judge said the burden now falls on Pictsweet to show it fired Andrade without taking into account his union activity.