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Krug Worker Woes

The vineyards at Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena recently proved to be fertile ground for worker unrest in the form of a $100,000 sexual harassment lawsuit as well as picketers protesting a policy change that could be used to disqualify longtime workers. Having a male supervisor shake a Port-a-Potty and try to enter it while a female worker was inside is just one of the incidents listed in the claim filed by vineyard laborer Clementina Fergoso and her co-defendant Margarita Galaraza. The suit charges that both women suffered through sexual comments and lewd propositions from two male supervisors. One of the supervisors allegedly called Galaraza at her house and followed Galarza's daughter home from school. According to the court documents, one of the men "warned them that they would be fired if they reported his sexual harassment, that they would not be believed as a 'simple worker' vs. his word as a supervisor." Despite the threats, the women filed formal complaints; the first was in January 2005. The lawsuit argues that Krug officials did little or nothing to remedy the situation, and asks for $50,000 each for Fergoso and Galaraza plus mental and emotional damages, as well as lawyers' fees and court costs. According to the court documents, both women still work at Krug. An attorney for one of the defendants says it's too early to comment on the case; a call to Krug was not returned. On Feb. 19, workers walked a picket line at Krug to oppose a proposed new requirement that all employees pass a periodic medical exam, something that is currently done only for new hires. Winery officials contend that field work is physically demanding and the tests will make sure employees aren't in a position where they might get hurt, which would also curb injuries while also curtailing workers' compensation insurance costs. However, United Farm Workers representative Robert Garcia argues that "it's a loophole for them to get rid of people who have given the company some of the best years of their lives. They could eliminate current workers who in the past have stood up to the company and who know their rights." A picket line on Feb. 26 postponed the winery's request, but winery officials didn't follow through on a promise of renewed negotiations. Heavy rains brought an early end to a March 5 picket, but more protests are to be scheduled. Krug's UFW contract expired Dec. 31. The company is one of only three Napa County wineries with a UFW contract.

--Briefs by Patricia Lynn Henley

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From the March 8-14, 2006 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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