Jan 7, 2002
After nine years of legal battle, California’s Orange County settled a lawsuit by more than 100 drywall workers, paying them a total of $280,000. When lawyers’ fees are taken out, this leaves each worker only about $1,200.
In 1992, workers had sued the county for arresting them on bogus charges in an effort to break their strike. Earlier that year, 153 strikers had been arrested after picketing a construction site in Orange County – the largest mass arrest in the county’s history. The workers were charged with “conspiracy to kidnap” strikebreakers. Later these charges were dropped for lack of evidence.
But before that happened, the strikers were held on $50,000 bail each, making it impossible for these low-paid workers to post bail and get out. In jail, some of them were slapped, kicked and otherwise abused by jail deputies attempting to intimidate them and break the morale of the strike. Federal immigration officers came by the jail to check their legal status and eventually deported dozens of them.
Nonetheless, the workers did not cave in to this intimidation. Nor did they depend on their court suit to win their battle. For five months they maintained their solidarity and daily activities. Ultimately they won a small wage increase and partial medical coverage. They also won effective recognition of their union in an industry where bosses had broken the unions ten years before.
So now, nine years later, the workers have finally been compensated for the false arrest. Of course they felt they had no choice but to accept only a tiny fraction of their original demand of $70,000 each because the case had been dragging on for so long. But even the small award they got is an admission by the state of its own illegal activities.
Does this mean the state will no longer arrest and otherwise intimidate strikers? Not at all. The state is perfectly ready to pay out money years later if its activities – legal and illegal – help to disarm the workers and throw back their struggles.
The workers main recourse is to do what the drywall strikers did – continue their fight in a militant and determined fashion.