Barry Bedwell, president, California Fresh Fruit Association

Barry Bedwell Says ALRB Education for Farmworkers is Okay, But Not Worksite Access

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

Officials from the California Agricultural Relations Labor Board (ALRB) held a public hearing in Fresno TODAY to talk about their proposal for worksite access– private operating farms–to educate farmworkers about the ALRB, and that did not sit well with ag leaders. Barry Bedwell, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association based in Fresno and other ag leaders questioned the ALRB’s motives.

“The real proposal has to do with granting legal access to ALRB agents to agricultural worksites for the purpose of educating workers about the Agricultural Labor Relations Act,” Bedwell said. “Education alone is something that no one I’ve talked to is against, clearly. We want people to understand their rights under the law.”

The Act provides, encourages and protects collective-bargaining rights for agricultural employees, but as Bedwell explained, access to a private worksite is a totally separate legal issue.

“It’s really complicated, unfortunately, because ALRB’s staff has shown to a great degree over the recent couple of years, a distinct bias towards organized labor,” Bedwell said. “The Act is all about a worker’s right to get one or more people together to complain about work conditions and to ask for certain things. It doesn’t mean the employer has to grant them; it’s really about worker’s rights.”

Bedwell said the request from the ALRB is distinctly not about a union’s rights, and “it’s never been about the employer’s rights,” Bedwell said. “We know that. But in this case, we think it’s at best premature to talk about workplace access without first understanding the issue of knowledge [or the lack thereof] out there currently and the best ways to conduct that education.”

Pointing to heat illness prevention and Cal/OSHA as a great example, Bedwell said, “Cal/OSHA did not ask for access to go onto someone’s private property. Instead, they said, ‘We will create the information systems through various media and through seminars which agriculture helped to organize and fund.’ We think that’s a great model for educational services, and we could help.”