Another Conscience Stirred Washington, Austin A spokesman for Rio Grande Valley farmers, testifying in Washington this month on the Starr County melon pickers’ strike, stirred Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s belief in remedial legislation for farm workers “to just about maximum pitch,” Fred Blackwell, general counsel of the Senate migratory labor subcommittee, tells the Observer. Now that the subcommittee’s Texas and Washington hearings on the Rio Grande City strike are completed, Blackwell says, both the Kennedy brothers, Sens. Robert and Ted Kennedy, are supporting, and “with passion,” the bill to give farm workers the protections of the National Labor Relations Act. Under that act, workers can organize and ask for a union, and if 30% of them petition for an election, they can determine by majority vote under secret ballot whether they will have a union. As it is for farm workers now, if they are fired in the course of agitating for a union, they have no recourse. Under the N.L.R.A., workers fired under such circumstances can win reinstatement and back pay with complaints of unfair labor practices. .Morris Atlas, speaking, he said, not only fir La Casita Farms in Starr County but for the farmers in the four-county Valley area, and Ray Rochester, manager of La Casita Farms, testified at a Washington hLaring on Aug. 2. They asked for the hMring, although Atlas had testified durhig the Texas hearings and Rochester had walked out on them. They, but particularly Atlas, became engaged in an astonishing Contretemps with Sens. Harrison Williams of New Jersey, chairman of the subcommttee, and Kennedy of New York. “What should have been really a boring, tedious hearing turned out to ,be just the opposite,” said Blackwell. “The net effect was another concrete batch of testimony for the need for collective bargaining. The second net effect is that this guy Atlas succeeded in stirring up the convictions of another senator who wasn’t in Texas,” Kennedy of New York. \(Kennedy of Massachusetts was one of the sena !rs who conducted 10 The Texas Observer #rilutz’ Since 1866 The Place in Austin GOOD FOOD GOOD BEER 1607 San Jacinto GR 7-4171 Blackwell believes the bill bringing farm workers under N.L.R.A. will pass on one side of the Capitol this session and on the other next year. If Congress stays in session long enough this year, he says, the bill might even pass both the House and Senate in 1967. ATLAS STIRRED up some of the senators at once by saying that the subcommittee in Texas “had something more in mind” than legislation, and the Texas hearings had “distinctly political overtones.” He spoke of “the obvious reluctance” of the subcommittee in Texas to hear “the full story . . . from the point of view of the growers in the area.” Williams asked Rochester if he was correctly quoted in the pr4s, as he walked out on the Texas hearings that he was not going to stay at that citeUs. “I don’t believe that was 4a \(‘inigCittbte,” Atlas said. “No, that was Cluoied”06rt i ectly,” Rochester concurred. ‘ 44146t.P n iefe` the hearing room,” Sen. Willigibg’ i catinued, “after about 15 minutes .,-togtr-ornd take a journey to Houston to see the ball game at the Astrodome. Is that correct?” “That is correct,” Rochester said. Atlas denied “wild and unfounded charges” of slave labor, 50-cents-an-hour wage rates, and lack of water and hygienic facilities at La Casita Farms. In due time Rochester was to testify that the wage rate at La Casita ranges now from the federal minimum, $1.15 an hour, up to $1.75 an hour. Atlas stressed that union spokesmen “could not” produce the name of one La Casita employee that they represented \(they have contended that they fear that their supporters inside the farm viewed growers’ charges that a trestle has been burned, sugar has been put in engines, and trucks and a pump have been burned, but acknowledged again under senatorial questioning that no one had been charged at law with committing these offenses. Atlas then recited the criminal records of Magdaleno Dimas and Benito Rodriguez, the two Mexican-American union members who were arrested, with the use of force, by Texas Ranger Captain A. Y. Allee and others in “the Dimas incident” fully reported in the Observer earlier this summer. “We are not trying to disparage anyone, but these people have never been denied by the union,” Atlas said. This set off the first of a series of rancorous, sometimes comical pyrotechnics in the committee room. Kennedy of New York \(his younger the police records had been testified to in the Texas hearings. Atlas said that had not been presented in enough detail. Kennedy told Atlas, “When you said, ‘I hate to do it,’ and then go ahead and do it, that struck me as a little hypocritical.” Atlas retorted, “I think it is also closed mindedness when you are not willing to accept the entire record.” “Nobody is not willing,” Kennedy said. “And you don’t have it,” Atlas said. “Don’t start talking like that, now . . . You came in here and rather piously protested that you hated to do it, and then went on and did it,” Kennedy told Atlas. A few minutes later Kennedy said, “I wasn’t there, but the people had an election down there and decided that they didn’t want a union; is that what the situation is? And they keep picketing in any case?” “No, sir; there has been no election,” Atlas explained. “Why don’t you have an election, and let the workers decide, and then’ be all finished?” Kennedy asked. “I just say, I am so shocked to hear as I sit here, Mr. Chairman, that you haven’t even had an election down there.” Atlas said no La Casita employee had asked for an election. Had the union? Kennedy asked. The union, Atlas r w pled, d, ri had refused to state under oath er they represent anyone at La Casit&i o ‘ e q e ur position,” Atlas said, “is that whopst ought to call in everybody at everyr–,4ablishment in South Texas and say, ‘IRt’s have an election, because Senator Kennedy thinks an election ought to be had every place, when no employees have asked for one’.” If the employees don’t want a union, Kennedy said, “the easiest way to clear this whole matter up” is to hold an election. “The impression that you are giving me,” he told Atlas, “is that you are scared to have an election. You are frightened about an election, because you are concerned that they will vote for a union . ..” If a substantial number of their employees asked for an election, Atlas said, “an election will be called immediately.” WILLIAMS of New Jersey then said that the testimony convinced him that the machinery of the National Labor. Relations Act is “most essential” so that farm workers can hold orderly elections. “If I ever saw a case which indicates the necessity of having an election and having this legislation, it is this testimony,” Kennedy said, adding again, “I am shocked.” La Casita’s spokesman, he said, was not willing to let the workers decide. “That’s what is shocking to me.” He spoke of “an element of fear” in connection with an employee asking for an election, “fear of what is going to happen.” “It may be a mechanism under the government is needed and necessary, so that the workers have that chance to decide,”, Kennedy said. Although it was brought out that the Department of Labor has advised La Casi’ to Farms that “a labor dispute involving work stoppage or layoff of employees is in progress at La Casita Farms,” \(in a de
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The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.