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Table-grape growers are particularly vulnerable to strikes because their product requires continual attention through much of the year. Since the appearance of the fruit affects its value—unlike the case of wine grapes—the bunches must be carefully picked by hand. Because of their vulnerability, Chavez picked the table-grape growers as his first target. In 1966, after a strike, he got his first contract when Schenley Industries capitulated because it had a nationally known name at stake. Later that year he won the right to represent workers at the mammoth Di Giorgio ranch in an election monitored by the American Arbitration Association. Both Di Giorgio and Schenley have since sold their table-grape holdings, however, and Chavez's only contracts now are with wine producers: Gallo, Christian Brothers, Masson, Almaden, Franzia Brothers and Novitiate.
Boycott and Breakthrough
Chavez has never been able to get large numbers of laborers to join the strike. Many of those who do follow him are fanatic in their loyalty, but a large segment of the shifting, transient work force continues to be indifferent to unionism. Wages have been rising even in the absence of contracts, and few farm workers can afford to go unpaid for long. Although federal regulations theoretically prohibit the hiring of aliens, or "green-carders," as strike breakers, the owners have nevertheless continued to use imported workers of Mexican citizenship.
Chavez decided to resort to the boycott to keep pressure on the table-grape growers. He applied it first in 1967 to the Giumarra Vineyards Corp., the largest U.S. table-grape producer. Giumarra started using the labels of other growers—in violation of Food and Drug Administration rules—to circumvent the boycott. In retaliation, the Chavez people began to appeal to stores and consumers not to buy any California table grapes at all. The boycott has been extended overseas to Britain and Scandinavia.
Chavez has now finally achieved a breakthrough: nationwide grape sales were off 12% in 1968, and prices for this year's first California grapes are down as much as 15%. Last month ten growers representing about 12% of the state's table-grape production announced that they would sit down with Chavez to write a contract. If negotiations with Chavez succeed, some other vineyards may also sign contracts, but a determined majority still barely acknowledge his existence and remain adamantly opposed to union recognition.
If the union does begin to win contracts with an increasing number of growers, a new difficulty could arise: How is the consumer to tell the difference between union and nonunion grapes? Boxes can be labeled easily, but not loose bunches of grapes in a market. The union claims that existing boycott machinery can be turned around to promote the produce of those who have signed; they could be marketed through the chain stores that have refused to handle the produce of struck growers. However, any such confusing procedure is bound to dilute the boycott's effectiveness.
Most of the growers bitterly dispute Chavez's contentions. His claim