August 30, 2002   #185
Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness
From a Public Interest Perspective

ADDRESS: PO. Box 2201, Everett, Washington 98203-0201

TO RECEIVE: Name and e-mail address


"What does labor want?
We want more school houses and less jails,
More book, and less arsenals,
More learning, and less vice,
More constant work and less crime,
More leisure and less greed,
More juistice and less revenge!!!

--- Samual Gompers, 1893, President of the AFL (1886-1894, 1896-1924)

"In the struggle for justice,
the only reward is the opportunity
to be in the struggle"

--- Frederick Douglass, Ex-slave, abolitionist and orator

"Speed now the day
when the plains and the hills
and all the wealth thereof
shall be the people's own
and free men shall not live
as tenants of men of the earth."

--- "Ceremony of the Land," Southern Tenant Farmers Union

"Well, maybe it's like Casey says:
A fella ain't got a soul of his own,
just a little piece of a big soul,
the one big soul that belongs to everybody.
And then, it don't matter,
I'll be all around. In the dark.
I'll be everywhere. Wherever you can look.
Wherever there's a fight, so hungry poeple can eat,
I'll be there
Wherever there's a cop beaten' up a guy,
I'll be there.
I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad,
and I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry
and know that supper's ready.
And when people are eaten' stuff they raise,
and livin' in the houses they build,
I'll be there, too!!!"

--- Tom Joad (from the movie "The Grapes of Wrath")


BOB EGELKO, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: A federal judge says he sympathizes with thousands of Mexican migrant workers who claim they were cheated out of many millions of dollars in California wages in the 1940s, but they are not entitled to legal compensation.

In dismissing the workers' lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer of San Francisco said he has no doubt that "many braceros never received savings fund withholdings to which they were entitled."

However, he said, the government of Mexico, which allegedly was holding the money for the workers, is immune. In addition, he said, the workers missed the deadline for filing a claim against the U.S. government, which had contracts with the workers and was supposed to oversee the withholding and transfer of their wages.

Breyer, whose ruling was made public [August 27], also dismissed claims against Wells Bank, which was supposed to transfer the money to Mexico, saying the bank did not violate the workers' rights.

About 400,000 braceros --- Spanish for "arm men" --- entered the United States under short-term contracts for manual labor from 1942 to 1964, virtually all on farms in the West. Under the agreement, the U.S. government deducted ten percent of their wages until 1949 and put the money in savings accounts that were supposed to be paid to the workers when they returned to Mexico.

The suit, filed last year, said hardly any of the withheld money was ever paid. Advocates said the braceros and their descendants might be entitled to $500 million, including interest. But because of the passage of time, the suit faced long odds. And they grew even longer when the U.S. government joined Mexico in arguing for dismissal.

In dismissing the suit against Mexico, Breyer said the 1952 U.S. law that repealed foreign governments' legal immunity does not apply to events that took place earlier. In releasing the United States from the suit, the judge said the legal deadline for such claims is six years from the time the alleged wrongdoing was discovered. He said the current version of the suit says the workers knew from the start that the money was being withheld.

"Given this knowledge, it is of no consequence that (the workers) may not have fully understood their legal rights or the available legal remedies, even if such ignorance was the result of unsophistication or illiteracy," Breyer wrote. "The court is sympathetic to the braceros' situation. However, just as a court's power to correct injustice is derived from the law, a court's power is circumscribed by the law as well."

Juventino Ortiz, a former bracero who took part in the suit, said he wasn't surprised by the dismissal. "The other guys were all dreaming, but I knew there were no possibilities," said Ortiz, now 81 and living in Hollister. "They sent all the money to Mexico and the guys in power (there) spent it all."

Mindful of the braceros' shaky legal status, supporters have proposed legislation in the state Legislature and Congress to keep the lawsuit alive. A change in California law would have no apparent effect on Breyer's ruling, which was based on federal law, but it could be affected by congressional action. Lawyers in the case were unavailable for comment.


LESLI A. MAXWELL, FRESNO BEE: The United Farm Workers on Wednesday agreed to a compromise that would remove binding arbitration from the fight over labor relations that has trapped Gov. Gray Davis between the union and farmers. The agreement --- which marks a dramatic turnaround for the UFW --- could bring an end to the high-profile, weeks-long standoff between the union and Davis over SB 1736 by Senate President Pro Tem John Burton.

Burton's bill --- on Davis' desk since Monday --- would require a third-party arbitrator to impose binding labor contracts when negotiations between farmworkers and growers break down. UFW leaders and Democratic legislators mounted a very public pressure campaign on Davis, leading a ten-day march through the Central Valley that ended Sunday in a massive rally at the Capitol.

Though Davis has maintained neutrality in public, the $27 billion agriculture industry is bitterly opposed to SB 1736, and growers have been counting on a veto from the Democratic governor. That reality drove union leaders to push for a different bill that still changes the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, but is more politically palatable for Davis.

While details of the alternative legislation were being worked out late Wednesday, its provisions would set up a dramatically different process for reaching labor agreements than the UFW had hoped for. "We feel this new legislation meets the concerns of the governor, but still achieves the goal of making sure farmworkers get their labor contracts," said UFW President Arturo Rodriguez.

Union spokesman Marc Grossman said the new legislation includes "90% of what the governor wanted. This is his proposal."

Davis' office did not comment on the new bill or whether the governor might sign it. Two high-level members of the Davis administration have been meeting with the union and growers since last week to try to bring the two sides together.

Under the new bill, farmworkers and growers who can't agree to a contract within 90 days of a successful union election would meet with a mediator for 30 days to try to reach an agreement. If that fails to deliver an agreement, the mediator would have three weeks to draft the provisions of a labor contract, a recommendation that would be submitted to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board.

The labor board --- whose five members are appointed by the governor --- would have ten days to decide whether to adopt the mediator's recommended contract or some other version. Either the union or growers could appeal the board's final decision to the state Supreme Court.

The measure will also exclude small-scale farmers who employ fewer than 25 farmworkers --- another gesture to the governor and to growers, Grossman said. UFW leaders said they would not accept the governor's proposal to make the law sunset after two years.

"That would be like giving women the right to vote in only one election," Grossman said. "A law that's been broken for 27 years and farmworkers are only going to get a remedy for two years? That's not fair."

With only three days remaining in the legislative session, Burton was working Wednesday night to gut one of his bills already sitting in the Assembly and insert the UFW's new language. The Assembly was expected to vote on a rule waiver late Wednesday to allow the bill to move to a floor vote as early as [Thursday].

If approved by the full Assembly, the measure would return to the Senate for a vote before it could be sent to Davis. Burton said Wednesday night that he would not withdraw SB 1736, meaning that Davis must still sign or veto the measure by September 30.


BILL BRADLEY, LA WEEKLY: Call it the battle for Gray Davis' soul.

United Farm Workers' co-founder Dolores Huerta turned up the heat at a Capitol rally marking the end of the UFW's ten-day march up the Central Valley to draw attention to the governor's reluctance to sign landmark legislation providing binding arbitration for farm workers.

"When Gray signed Cesar Chavez Day, he gave me a copy of the bill with a note calling me his `conscience.' Now we'll learn if he hears his conscience." The 72-year-old Huerta, who nearly died of an aneurysm last year, told the Weekly she plans to fast if Davis refuses to sign the bill in the next week or so, a chilling prospect for her health --- and for Davis' image.

Davis missed the rally. He was on his way to Fresno to tout his state advertising program for California agriculture and to attend a dinner honoring retiring state Senator Jim Costa, the only Democrat to vote against the farm labor bill.

"I got angrier with every step of the march that the farm workers had to do all this with a Democratic governor," said the bill's author, Senate President John Burton (Dem.-San Francisco). "We're going to give him the opportunity to prove the Republicans liars, that he's not a `pay-for-play' governor, that this march and what it represents is worth more than the million dollars he's taken from the growers."

Backstage, a legislator circulated photos of Davis with ex?Republican Governor Pete Wilson, whose political fortunes could be Davis'. Like Wilson, he could be handily re-elected but widely disrespected. His legendary feud with Burton, which he should act to mend, is only part of the problem. Dozens of legislators marched with the farm workers, developing a camaraderie that could bode ill for Davis if he vetoes the bill.

It may not be surprising that dozens of Hollywood stars, including Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, Jack Nicholson, Annette Bening, and Martin Sheen wrote an open letter to Davis urging him to sign the bill.

But big Democratic business patrons like Northern California development kingpin Angelo Tsakopoulos, who helped pay for the Capitol rally, are getting in on the act, too. Tsakopoulos, who held a fund-raiser for Davis last year and just gave him $100,000, told the Weekly: "He must understand that field work is so desperately hard. They need this bill."

By Sunday night, it was clear that Davis aides were feeling the heat from the UFW's moves and that rethinking of the governor's plan to veto the bill was underway. Even last week the Governor's Office was sending signals of compromise. The Weekly was asked to come by to see a year-old letter from UFW president Rodriguez thanking Davis for vetoing the union's top priority of 2000, which targeted abusive farm labor contractors, because it made for a stronger bill in 2001.

With the pertinent lines underlined and an arrow placed next to them, the Weekly was told to "view this in the context of the Burton bill." But the UFW leadership proved not to be impressed by the notion of a veto this year and an amended bill next year. Nor was a famous Democrat of Davis' long acquaintance. "That's bullshit. He should sign the bill now."

Two political mentors and allies most responsible for the rise of Gray Davis also are pushing him to sign the bill. One is former Governor Jerry Brown, for whom Davis served as chief of staff. The other is L.A. Congressman Howard Berman, who endorsed Davis in 1982 when he ran for Berman's old Assembly seat in Beverly Hills.

Berman and Brown joined forces to create California's landmark Farm Labor Act in 1975, with Brown insisting on its passage as governor and Berman serving as its legislative author.

"After a time," says Berman, "the growers figured out how to manipulate the law and the union's fortunes waned. And without a Democratic governor, there was no way to amend the legislation. Growers can live with this, just as they've lived with the end of child labor, the short-handled hoe, and indiscriminate pesticide spraying. The UFW is as practical as it is idealistic. They have no desire to put growers out of business."

Berman, as shrewd a practical politician as any around, agrees with other political experts that it makes more sense for Davis to sign the Burton bill than to veto it. As one Democratic analyst puts it: "Now he needs goodwill more than money, because he will have all the money he needs." In the words of a Davis adviser: "It should be an interesting week."


ELIZABETH BECKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Black farmers with well-used tractors and a mule protested [August 22] outside the Department of Agriculture, asking for immediate settlement of their cases from a five-year-old lawsuit charging that the government had refused them loans because of their race.

Agriculture Department officials said they planned to continue speaking to  the group and hundreds of other black farmers who say they have yet to be paid in the class-action suit, which was settled in 1999 when the  government essentially admitted racial discrimination.

The protesters said farmers were going bankrupt waiting for millions of dollars owed them.

"We're not asking for handouts," said Philip Haynie, a Virginia farmer. "We're asking for our due, and we're going to keep on praying and coming back to Washington until we get it."

In the settlement, the government agreed to pay $50,000 to each farmer who had been denied a loan. Those farmers wanting more money would be required to go through a longer procedure.

Lou Gallegos, an assistant secretary at the Agriculture Department, said at a hastily convened news conference near the protest that the government had kept its word. "The vast majority of settlements have been approved," Mr. Gallegos said. "It is not a question of resisting paying farmers."

More than 500 cases are outstanding, the protesters said. The department says more than 10,000 cases have been paid. Mr. Gallegos said he had no date for when the remaining ones would be paid.

Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman announced [August 22] that she had released  $98.2 million for a loan program that "will particularly help minority and small farmers. Today's discussions and agreements are simply part of an ongoing process to ensure that all farmers --- regardless of race, creed, gender, national origin or geographic location --- are treated fairly," Ms. Veneman said in a statement.

But many of the more than 50 farmers waving homemade placards and shouting slogans said the department's announcements were glossing over its legal responsibilities. "They denied my claim by saying they had no record we were farmers," said Walter Rodgers Jr., who drove to Washington from his home near Coldwater, Mississippi.  "I am a fifth-generation farmer," Mr. Rodgers said. "We had to stop row cropping because we've run out of money. That's why we're here now. Trying to get something done."


CBC NEWS [CANADIAN BROADCASTING COMPANY] NEWS ONLINE: Grain exports through Vancouver have stopped after the people who load ships were locked out at midnight Sunday.

But the lockout isn't expected to create a major disruption because few ships are scheduled to pick up loads and there is little grain in the port because of the Prairie drought. Operations at Prince Rupert, the other West Coast grain shipping port, aren't affected, said Eric Harris, chief negotiator for the B.C. Terminal Elevator Operators Association.

About 600 members of the Grain Workers Union were locked out after they failed to meet a deadline to vote on the latest offer from the terminal operators. The terms of that offer "were setting us back 30 years," union local president Robert MacPherson told CBC's Newsworld Monday as workers quietly marched and applauded speakers outside the terminals in Vancouver.

The association wanted the union to vote on Sunday afternoon. The vote didn't happen, so the operators closed the terminals, Harris said.

But MacPherson said there wasn't enough time for members to vote before the deadline. The union got the offer on Thursday, but will not vote on it until this week because of the difficulty in contacting its members. A third have been laid off because of the poor grain crops, many are on vacation and the shift schedule made it hard to contact others, MacPherson said.

The association wants to increase efficiency at the terminals, while the union is concerned about recall rights, retirement incentives and scheduling. The last contract expired 20 months ago, on January 1, 2001. No new talks are scheduled.


PHILIP BRASHER, DES MOINES REGISTER: It's hard to tell in most of Iowa, but this summer is turning into a disaster for many of the nation's farmers.

Because of slumping livestock prices and a drought that has spread across much of the country, the government now predicts that net farm income this year will plummet 23% to the lowest level since the U.S. agricultural economy crashed in the mid-1980s.

Farmers who have good crops, as is the case in much of Iowa where rainfall has been ample, will do quite well thanks to soaring crop prices.

But the drought has stunted or destroyed crops and pastureland throughout the western Plains and in the East. At the same time, those farmers are getting less money from the government because the drought has pushed grain and soybean commodity prices above federal subsidy levels.

"If you have high production and high prices, that's a real bonus. When you have less to sell . . . farmers don't do so well," U.S. Department of Agriculture economist Larry Salathe said Friday.

The USDA's new forecast, issued this week, projects net farm income will drop to $35.2 billion this year, down $10.5 billion from 2001. That would be the nation's lowest farm income since 1983, measured in constant dollars, according to the department's economists.

In June, before the drought had spread, the department projected income this year to exceed $40 billion. The final numbers could fluctuate depending on a number of factors, including claims farmers are paid for crop insurance.

The new report will likely increase pressure on Congress and the Bush administration to approve a multibillion-dollar package of disaster assistance before this fall's congressional elections. "I hope this propels us into getting the administration on board," said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, Dem.-Iowa.

The USDA does not break down its income projections by state. However, the department says income in a region that includes Iowa and extends from eastern Nebraska to western Ohio should be off about 15% this year.

The new farm bill has done relatively little to stem this year's losses because much of the subsidies under the legislation decline as production drops or prices rise. The USDA estimates that "loan deficiency payments," which subsidize the cost of grain, cotton and soybeans, will drop from $5.5 billion last year to $2 billion in 2002, as commodity prices exceed the federal price guarantees.

In Iowa, corn is selling for about $2.40 a bushel, well above the government subsidy level of $1.90 to $2.

Also weighing on farm income are the relatively large supplies this year of beef, hogs, poultry and milk that have reduced prices for those commodities. The price declines are due in part to the drought, which has spurred more cattle to slaughter. Average milk prices are expected to be the lowest since 1979. Last week, the USDA sharply reduced its projections for this year's corn and soybean harvests because of the drought.


California cattle ranchers filed suit in California state court in May, 2002, against IBP, Inc. and Tyson Foods, Inc., alleging violations of the California Unfair Competition Act.  Named Plaintiff Thomas Cockrell, on behalf of himself and all California cattle ranchers similarly situated, seeks to enjoin Tyson / IBP from the anti-competitive use of captive supply and other unfair and illegal practices, and seeks restitution for California cattle producers.

The suit differs from other cases pending against various beef packers because, first, it was filed in state court, and second, it is premised on injuries to indirect sellers of non fed cattle as opposed to injuries to direct sellers of fed cattle.

Unlike the federal government, California has repealed potential application of the holding in the federal Illinois Brick Co. vs. State of Illinois, 431 U.S. 720 (1977), which prevents indirect seller relief, to its own antitrust laws by adopting a scheme allowing indirect sellers to sue.

Cattle are one of California's major agricultural products, ranking fourth behind grapes, dairy, and nursery products. In 2000, the value of cattle produced in California amounted to over $1.3 billion.

Defendant Tyson / IBP removed the action to Federal District Court for the Northern District of California in June, and thereafter moved to immediately dismiss the lawsuit as barred by the Illinois Brick rule. Plaintiffs filed a motion to remand the action to state court where cattlemen as indirect sellers can win relief, and have opposed the motion to dismiss. Hearing on both motions is set for hearing on August 30, 2002.

The lawsuit was filed by the firm of Hosie, Frost, Large & McArthur of San Francisco, which specializes in complex litigation on behalf of businesses, consumers and state governments, and the Law Offices of Bruce F. Stanford of Anchorage, Alaska.

Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison LLP, with over 825 attorneys in 12 offices, recently joined forces in representing California cattle ranchers in the case against Tyson / IBP.  The lawsuit comes in the midst of continued consolidation in the beef packing industry. Cattlemen argue that their declining share of the consumers beef dollar, now at an all-time low, is the result of the unfair and abusive market power of Tyson/IBP, who now controls over 30% of the total steer and heifer slaughter in the United States.


It is rather curious that as more and more people from literally around the world request
to regularly receive THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER, lavish in their much
appreciated praise for the work it seeks to do, fewer and fewer people seem willing to
financially contribute to its support.

Those handful of regular contributors who have earned the editor's undying gratitude
over the past four years and the few other occasional welcome individual supporters
stand in marked contrast to those many who obviously have believed during that time
that their aid could be better applied elsewhere, particularly when it comes farm and
rural  organizations. Such neglect, however, when it comes to rural concerns is
recognized  from this desk as not uncommon in our modern affluent and well fed

Since the AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER first appeared some 184 issues ago it has been
the publisher's intent to make the work of the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project
(CARP) and the monitoring of corporate agribusiness from a public interest perspective
available to the widest possible audience, seeing that those few and available publications
that still concern themselves with corporate agribusiness are so prohibitively expensive,
to say nothing of their pro-corporate bias.

But, because there is a more a need today than ever before to make corporate
agribusiness more accountable to the common good, it is the wish and hope of THE
AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER to continue to play a major role in that effort. Your
contributions will go far in helping to perpetuate that hope. Such contributions may be
sent to the editor at the above address.

As part of a major effort to keep those committed to bringing economic and political
democracy to rural America informed, educated and updated the Corporate
Agribusiness  Research Project is happy to point out that its web site has been updated
and  streamlined.

Among the sites many features are:

> A complete index of THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER'S  first 162 issues with a
"Search" engine to provide easy access to the subject matter of each edition.

> new edition of THE AGBIZ TILLER, the progeny of the one-time printed
newsletter, featuring the essay "The Merchants of Greed," an in-depth essay dealing with
today's corporate agribusiness. Likewise the "Search" engine is also available for past
editions of THE AGBIZ TILLER.

> In "Between the Furrows," besides a modern "Search" engine, there is a wide range
of  pages designed to inform and educate readers on the inner workings of corporate
agribusiness. They include:

* CARP's "Mission Statement," "Overview" and THE AGRIBUSINESS
EXAMINER'S  Editor\Publisher's "Resume."

*  "Fact Miners," an effort to assist the reader in the necessary art of researching

*  "Quotable Quotes" pertaining to agribusiness and corporate power

*  "Links," a page which allows the reader to survey various useful public interest,
government and corporate web sites;

* "Feedback" an opportunity for reader input:

* The Corporate Reapers: The Book of Agribusiness, a page where readers can order
directly the editor's 1992 published book from Essential Books.

The CARP web site was designed and produced by ElectricArrow of Seattle,

Simply by clicking on the address below all the aforementioned features and information
are yours  to enjoy, study, absorb and sow.