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[whitespace] Strawberry Jam

Santa Cruz's former Monsanto berry farm still hosts ongoing labor disputes

By Mary Spicuzza

WATSONVILLE'S COASTAL BERRY CO., known as Gargiulo Inc. when it was owned by Monsanto, is one of the most controversial farms in America. As owner of the state's largest strawberry company, Monsanto made big news in 1997 when it lost a United Farm Workers lawsuit and had to pay $575,000 to employees and former workers for requiring that they work before and after shifts without pay. Monsanto also charged employees for berry-picking supplies. Soon after, Martin Sheen and a group of religious leaders were arrested while protesting outside Gargiulo. They accused Monsanto of refusing to rehire UFW supporters.

Monsanto sold the company, which has farms in Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara and Ventura, to East Coast venture capitalists Landon Butler and David Gladstone in June 1997. Terms of the sale were not disclosed to the public, and the Wall Street Journal ran a front-page story about the secrecy surrounding the deal. The article alleged a "sweetheart deal" between the United Farm Workers, the AFL-CIO, Monsanto and the alleged union-friendly professionals-turned-strawberry farmers, who had no previous experience in agriculture. The Journal never explored what Monsanto got out of the deal.

Santa Cruz County agricultural commissioner Dave Moeller says he isn't aware of any genetically modified crop research conducted at Gargiulo. Yet companies doing GMO research are not required to register with the county, only with state and federal agencies.

On May 3 representatives of the UFW and a rival union called the Coastal Berry of California Farm Workers Committee settled their two-year labor dispute. The agreement called for the UFW to represent the company's field workers in Ventura County, while the CBCFW would represent workers in Santa Cruz County.

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From the May 17-24, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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