Vineyard workers from Gallo of Sonoma, part of the E&J Gallo company, voted yesterday on whether to cut ties with the United Farm Workers of America union. The move comes only three years after the union won a contract that was viewed as a significant show of strength for the union within the US wine industry.

However in an extraordinary turn of events state authorities have impounded the ballots and placed the result on hold following accusations of wrong doing from both sides.

The United Farmworkers union has accused Gallo of pressuring workers into signing a decertification petition calling for the election. The UFW also says claims that Gallo failed to tell some workers that the petition was to oust the union, therefore making the election illegal.

However Gallo denies the allegations of pressure and itself has levelled complaints of its own against the UFW saying it threatened Gallo employees if they didn't support the union.

UFW spokesman Marc Grossman called the charges absurd and was quoted as saying: "The evidence is pretty overwhelming this is a totally orchestrated attempt to get rid of the UFW and that's illegal."

But Gallo has countered in a statement saying the allegations were "both desperate and misleading."

It continued that it "is apparent that many of the employees have problems or concerns with the United Farm Workers union. This is an issue between the members and their union."

The California Agricultural Labor Relations Board is investigating the case. Although it allowed the ballot to go ahead it has held off on counting the votes.

Gallo workers voted to join the UFW in 1994 and signed the current contract in September 2000.