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Pelosi's Napa Business Scrutinized

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Is it a blatant case of liberal hypocrisy or a hatchet job by conservative commentators? There is a story knocking around the darker forests of the Internet concerning a Napa Valley vineyard owned by soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who also happens to be one of the wealthiest members of Congress.

Nancy Pelosi has received awards from the United Farm Workers Union. She has accepted considerable campaign financing from unions. And yet the vineyard that she and her husband own in Napa is non-union. That's the gist of the allegation of hypocrisy, but it's far from the whole story.

The Pelosis' vineyard is about seven acres on the south side of St. Helena. On her financial disclosure statements Pelosi lists the vineyard at between $5 million and $25 million dollars. As Peter Schweizer of the Hoover Institution pointed out in his book, the Pelosis hire non-union labor.

Peter Schweizer, Hoover Research Fellow: "She has won the Cesar Chavez award from the United Farm Workers Union and yet they don't use members of the United Farm Workers Union to actually pick the grapes on their winery."

Schweizer calls it liberal hypocrisy. And with Pelosi set to become the next speaker of the House, his charges are getting a lot of attention.

Peter Schweizer: "Investors Business Daily has run a column on it. There's been a lot of people on talk radio that have talked about it."

But in Napa we found the facts don't fit Schweizer's claim. For starters, the Pelosis pay more than union workers are paid in the same valley -- that from the pastor at St. Helena's Catholic Church, a well known advocate for farm workers who's involved in labor negotiations with the same labor manager the Pelosis use.

Monsignor John Brenkle, St. Helena Catholic Church: "So I know exactly what his pay scale is."

And Monsignor Brenkle says the Pelosis pay a $1.25 an hour more than workers at Napa's biggest union winery.

Monsignor John Brenkle: "I don't think she has the possibility of finding other union workers here in the valley."

Of the more than 300 vineyards, fewer than four are union, and most of the farm workers in the Napa Valley get paid better. St. Helena is a town rich with wine and the money that it has generated.

We heard the same from workers who say they're making between nine and 10 dollars an hour. Angel Calderon, the manager of a farm workers camp, says migrant workers in Napa get much more than union workers in the Salinas Valley or the Central Valley.

Angel Calderon, farm worker camp manager: "It's the truth, it's the truth. They pay better wages right here in Napa Valley."

Calderon manages one of three camps subsidized by Napa growers. For $11 dollars a day, workers get a clean place to live and three meals a day, access to doctors and dental care. But all of that aside, if Nancy Pelosi wanted to have union workers she could not ask the union for a contract. It's illegal and has been since 1975.

A spokesman for the United Farm Workers Union explains.

Marc Grossman, United Farm Workers Union: "It is patently illegal for any grower to even discuss a union contract, which is the only way you can supply union workers, without the workers first having voted in a state conducted secret ballot election."

I asked Peter Schweizer, the Hoover Research fellow, if he had researched those facts before he called Pelosi a hypocrite.

Peter Schweizer: "It's really for her to explain why there is this inconsistency. It's not my responsibility to go and find out how every single particular circumstance is handled on the Pelosi vineyard."

The 1975 Agricultural Labor Relations Act is pretty clear, what Peter Schweizer suggests would be illegal. Growers like Pelosi can't just hire workers from a union, but workers can unionize on their own and then negotiate with growers after they have organized. Schweizer told me this morning he would call me back and clear this all up -- he hasn't. We've left several messages.

Today, Nancy Pelosi's press secretary said this account is riddled with errors and clearly wasn't fact-checked. Well, it's been fact-checked now.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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