Judge busts nut company

A federal administrative-law judge has ruled against Sacramento’s Blue Diamond Almonds, in the midst of a yearlong battle between employees and management over unionization.

On March 17, National Labor Relations Board Judge Jay R. Pollack ordered the company to rehire two employees fired last year and to stop “threatening employees” with wage, benefit and pension loss should the plant unionize. Pollack also ordered the company to stop “coercively interrogating employees” about unionization efforts and other workplace threats.

Employees were informed of the ruling March 21, said Agustin Ramirez, an organizer with International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), Local 17, West Sacramento. But they believe Blue Diamond will appeal the decision. Blue Diamond has 15 days from March 21 to reinstate fired employees Ivo Camilo and Mike Flores. Both were known members of the unionization effort, and the judge cited that as a factor in repudiating their firings.

“They believe that as long as they can stretch this out, people will get discouraged and think it’s impossible to get a union in here,” Ramirez said. The ILWU is hoping to eventually push for a union election filing, which would force a unionization vote. A similar effort failed in 1990. (See SN&R News stories “NLRB says ‘nuts’ to Blue Diamond,” June 23, 2005, and “No joy in nutville,” April 28, 2005.)

Blue Diamond officials did not respond to SN&R calls for comment, but the company has maintained it was within its rights to fire employees Camilo and Flores, who’d worked at the plant a combined 55 years. The company also has defended its actions in handing out numerous fliers in recent months discouraging employees to unionize. In a March 22 memo sent to employees in response to the NLRB ruling, Blue Diamond said, “we have a long history of fair and impartial administration” of rules and “administer discipline only when appropriate.”

—Jason Probst

Deaf viewers shut out at Metro Cable

Lois Diamond can’t hear, but she’s got the Sacramento Metropolitan Cable Television Commission listening. Diamond is deaf and a member of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors’ Disability Advisory Committee (DAC). She’s trying to persuade the commission to provide closed captioning for all the local governmental meetings it broadcasts on Channel 14.

“None of the boards here in Sacramento County caption their meetings, Sacramento, Rancho Cordova, Elk Grove, Folsom, Fair Oaks, SMUD, etc.,” Diamond explained via e-mail. Yet, according to the state Department of Social Services, of Sacramento County’s 1,352,445 people, approximately 8.6 percent are deaf or hard of hearing. That works out to more than 116,000 people who essentially have no way to know what’s going on at local government meetings.

Diamond insists that guidelines for both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Federal Communications code clearly specify that the deaf and hard of hearing should be provided with equal access to such broadcasts. Yet, so far, Diamond says the cable commission has turned a deaf ear to the issue. “Twice our advisory board asked for captioning, both times they denied us,” she wrote.

That may be about to change, reports Robert Davison, the cable commission’s newly appointed executive director. “We were notified by DAC that they had a problem with the meetings on Channel 14 not being closed-captioned, and we’ve now agreed to look into that,” he said. The commission is in the process of requesting a proposal that will examine what services are required by law and how much those services will cost. The commission oversees Metro Cable, which broadcasts the local meetings and currently has an annual budget of $300,000.

Diamond intends to keep the pressure on at the commission’s next board meeting Thursday, April 6, this time as a private citizen. “As a final fight, I decided to independently contact and bring the deaf together,” she wrote. “I asked them to unite with me to go before the Cable Commission to ask them to caption the meetings. We are trying to get support for all the [government] programs to be captioned. After all, we pay the same price those who hear pay, yet we only get half the service.”

—R.V. Scheide