Blue Diamond battle on two fronts

Blue Diamond Growers is facing another hearing by the National Labor Relations Board, and possible pressure from the Sacramento City Council, for its treatment of union-supporting employees.

The NLRB issued a complaint October 23 saying the Sacramento-based almond distributor illegally fired one veteran employee, Leo Esparza, and disciplined another, Cesario Aguirre, for supporting organizing efforts by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. A hearing is scheduled for December 19.

The allegations had been dismissed by the NLRB in March—but at that time the NLRB ordered the company to reinstate two other employees.

NLRB regional director Joseph Norelli said the ILWU appealed Esparza’s and Aguirre’s cases in June with new evidence, prompting an investigation.

It’s all part of the struggle to unionize Blue Diamond employees, which the ILWU has been attempting to do for two years. Blue Diamond public affairs officer Susan Brauner said the company wants an immediate election by employees to decide whether there will be a union. But ILWU organizer Agustin Ramirez said the “toxic environment” within the company prevents a fair election at this point.

On another front, Sacramento City Council members Steve Cohn and Kevin McCarty are sponsoring a resolution, scheduled to be introduced Tuesday, November 9, that would ask Blue Diamond management to remain neutral in the face of unionization efforts.

Brauner declined to discuss previous disciplinary action by her company, though she said, “We are very careful in how we work with the people in our company.”

According to ILWU, Esparza, a 24-year Blue Diamond veteran, allegedly was fired in September of 2005 for taking home a broken weed whacker from a company dumpster. Agustin Ramirez, an ILWU organizer, said Esparza had scavenged for years without incident.

Two supervisors cited 28-year veteran Aguirre in January for not wearing safety goggles—a month after he testified against them in the previous trial, Ramirez said. The union wants Esparza reinstated and Aguirre’s record cleared. “If Cesario hadn’t been an open union supporter, the company wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing right now,” Ramirez said.