Kamala Harris to Campaign with Labor Leader Fresh Out of Jail

United Farm Workers co-founder arrested at protest after settling long-running lawsuit

Senator Kamala Harris / Getty Images
September 20, 2019

Democratic presidential hopeful Kamala Harris is hoping to rally Iowa voters by campaigning with a recently jailed labor leader whose union was forced to pay its organizers $1.3 million in back wages.

Fresno County deputies arrested United Farm Workers (UFW) co-founder Dolores Huerta at an August protest after she allegedly ignored orders to disperse. Huerta joined California home health care workers to advocate for a wage increase, but the labor organization she founded has admitted to stiffing its own employees. In 2017, the union paid $1.3 million to former field organizers in back wages, penalties, and attorney fees stemming from a long-running lawsuit.

Harris is hosting a house party this weekend with Huerta, aiming to revive her support in Iowa after recent polling found the California senator receiving just 5 percent support in the state, a 13-point drop since July. Following the rapid decline in support, Harris's campaign confirmed she will spend half of October in Iowa in an attempt to "slingshot" her campaign.

"I'm f―king moving to Iowa," Harris reportedly said to Sen. Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii).

The Harris campaign did not respond to request for comment.

Huerta's scheduled appearance with Harris comes after the labor organizer stormed a Fresno County Board of Supervisors meeting alongside 500 union activists. When local police asked Huerta to leave, she refused and was arrested.

Though Huerta was quick to criticize county supervisors at the meeting, she failed to mention the UFW's alleged mistreatment of workers that resulted in a $1.3 million settlement.

In October 2017, UFW ended a long-running lawsuit with former field organizers after a county judge ordered the union to pay $885,000 in back pay and $235,000 in penalties, as well as legal expenses amounting to more than $800,000. The union was accused of forcing organizers to work more than 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week, issuing pay stubs that did not specify hours worked, and failing to provide meal periods after 5 hours on the clock. It used workers' dues to pay off the debt, according to the Los Angeles Times.

UFW leaders have also been accused of profiting off of insider real estate deals.

Emilio Huerta, Dolores Huerta's son, purchased a plot of Fresno land from the National Farm Workers Service Center in 2004. The day after closing the sale for $1.8 million, Huerta sold the property for $2.9 million, raking in a $1.1 million profit.

In addition, Dolores Huerta's daughter purchased a West Los Angeles house previously owned by the Service Center for half the market price in 2004.

Huerta endorsed Harris for president in February.

The UFW did not return request for comment.