In June the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) called for a boycott of Gallo wines. This is the second time in 32 years that the Farm Workers have done so. This time, after nearly two years of trying to negotiate a new contract, the workers finally called for a boycott. "Together, we will convince America’s wealthiest wine making family to stop exploiting and mistreating all of its vineyard workers in Sonoma County," said UFW President Arturo Rodriguez at the rally.

Gallo is a $1.7 billion company, the leading U.S. wine exporter and the largest in the U.S. by number of cases sold. Gallo of Sonoma produces some of the company’s most expensive wines, yet pays less than most Sonoma County wineries. The majority of its farm workers are hired through labor contractors and offered no health benefits or contract protections. This strategy is a familiar one to those of us who participated in the Taco Bell boycott called by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Mt. Olive pickle boycott called by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. In both cases, the larger company contracted with sub-contractors, technically allowing the major company to absolve itself of responsibility for the conditions of farm workers. In both cases, the farm workers won the demands they were calling for.

More than a year ago a television crew exposed the living conditions of 29 of Gallo’s grape workers, who were living in a small three bedroom, one bath house with poor plumbing, raw sewage and exposed wiring. There’s little reason to think that these workers were the exception to the rule.

Because many churches uses Gallo wine for communion, the UFW is asking churches to be sure not to use Gallo wine. Many churches have a long history of standing with the farm workers since the days of the late Cesar Chavez. Indeed, the Unitarian Universalist Association became the first denomination to endorse the boycott of Gallo at its national meeting early this summer. Other denominations are expected to join the boycott over the next months.

Churches and community activists are being asked to circulate petitions. They are also being asked to inform store or restaurant managers that they are supporting the boycott until Gallo negotiates a fair contract for all its farm workers.

There are a number of Gallo-owned labels which fall under the boycott. These include wines with Gallo in their name, but also others, such as Carlo Rossi, Copperidge, Ecco Domani, Gossamer Bay, Redwood Creek and Turning Leaf, which may not be as obvious.

Because of the split among the members of the AFL-CIO, this year’s Labor Day may be the most important one in many decades. If there’s a parade in your community, go to it. If there’s a union worker in your church or neighborhood, tell him or her you support them. And while you are at it, join the Gallo wine boycott.

Bernice Powell Jackson