The UFW Conspiracy Case Against the Teamsters and Growers

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Jerry Cohen, house counsel for the UFW, came down to LA in 1974 with photos of Teamster goons who had violently attacked pickets in Coachella and other places to disrupt picketing. “Look at these goons attacking peaceful picket lines. Start a file on a conspiracy by the Teamsters, growers, and their paid thugs to use violence to prevent the UFW from organizing, and research the best remedies available.”

The UFW Conspiracy Case Against the Teamsters and Growers

The UFW provided declarations to prove a conspiracy between the Teamsters and Coachella Valley grape growers, to use motorcycle gangs, thugs, and Teamster dockworkers that supported a multi-million dollar civil rights lawsuit I filed in the United States District Court in Los Angeles. As a result of my research, I prepared an article published by the University of San Fernando Valley Law Review, “Conspiratorial Violence at Picket Lines: Actionable under Sect. 1985(3) and Sect. 1981.”  It discusses the basis for a federal court to restrain conspiratorial violence at picket lines where thugs had assaulted and battered picketing farm workers protesting working conditions.

The complaint alleged one hundred and seventy-five Teamster and grower agents used lead pipes, chains, crowbars, clubs, knives, guns, bottles, and rocks as weapons against UFW pickets, threatened to kill members, burn homes and vehicles, desecrated a Mexican flag, broke a priest’s nose, and picket captain’s shoulder.

The Teamster and grower attorneys filed an attempt to dismiss these pleadings. In opposition I filed a thousand pages of declarations, a legal brief, and exhibits with photographs. The Court denied the motions and set the case for trial.

Ben Margolis, senior partner at the personal injury firm of Margolis, McTernan, Scope, and Sacks, agreed to take the deposition of Teamster president, Frank Fitzsimmons. Ben had advocated on behalf of workers and persecuted labor activists. He came to the ACLU when he learned of the conspiracy lawsuit I had filed and asked me to prepare him for the deposition. On our flight to San Francisco, I provided him details from my investigation. “This is just the kind of information I need.” I sat next to Ben during the eight-hour deposition making notes for our case, and slipped him data as needed. He was a master at forcing the witness to respond and not give evasive answers. The transcript provided testimony we used in all Teamster litigation and helped with the settlement meeting we had later in Oakland with Jerry, Sandy, and others, and the teamsters, Safeway and many growers.

Just before that settlement conference Jerry asked me to prepare an extensive set of Interrogatories, Request for Production of Documents, and Request for Admissions of Fact to serve on Safeway’s attorneys’ who had been vituperative at all attempts to settle. I spent a day drafting the discovery requests for Safeway to disgorge all evidence of claimed losses caused by UFW picketing throughout the United States. Jerry winked at me during the meeting when the Safeway attorney became argumentative. I walked up behind him, laid a fifty-page discovery request on his lap, and said, “You’re served.” Jerry broke into a smile and then chuckled when the curmudgeon fumbled the document.

He turned at me with an angry red face and barked, “What an unprofessional thing to do at a settlement conference!”The meeting lasted the entire day and helped resolving the jurisdictional dispute between the UFW and the Teamsters later.

Shortly thereafter, Dolores Huerta made a surprise visit to my office at the ACLU. She waved a document in her hand, “I wanted to meet the person who drafted this.”

It was the thick complaint I had drafted against the Kern County Prosecutor, Sheriff, and twenty-nine deputies from violence in the San Joaquin Valley in 1973.

“That would be me,” I offered.

“Your complaint is one of the most passionate accounts of violations of farm worker rights I ever read. Thank you so much for your contribution.”

Stunned and humbled by her remarks, we hugged, “It has been an honor to help La Causa.” She displayed an act of leadership I had noticed in Cesar and his brother, Richard. They energized dedicated workers and never acted like “stars.”

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