ALRB and UFW Conflicts Concern Industry
By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster
Governor Jerry Brown’s appointments to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) is causing quite a bit of concern for farmworkers and ag employers alike.
George Radanovich is the President of the California Fresh Fruit Association and a former California congressman who served from 1995 until 2011, representing California’s 19th District. He expressed his disappointment in so many United Farm Workers of America advocates being appointed to the ALRB.
“The board is there to protect the interests of the farmworker. What they’re doing is trying to protect the interests of the United Farm Workers, and that goes completely against what they were created by law to do,” Radanovich said.
William Gould, who was appointed by Governor Brown to chair the ALRB in 2014, announced his resignation recently. In his resignation letter, he noted that during his tenure, only one petition for unionization had come before the board. Gould also previously noted that the board spent more of its time on petitions from workers trying to kick out the UFW, rather than petitions seeking to join the union. That seems pretty telling as to how desirable the UFW is to farm workers.
“The UFW only represents about 2 precent of farmworkers in the state,” Radanovich said. “And the reason is, is because farmworkers are happy with the growers. I mean, there’s a very good relationship there, and they view the UFW as intrusive.”
Radanovich referenced what happened with Gerawan Farms as an illustration of the already problematic relationship between ALRB and the UFW. “Way back in the ’90s, there was a union vote to unionize, and the UFW just sat back and didn’t mobilize. They didn’t unionize the farmworkers. Twenty years later, they walk back into the operation and say, ‘Okay, it takes effect now.’ Where would that happen anywhere else?” Radanovich said.
The Gerawan workers decided to have a new election, with a majority of workers expressing their disinterest in joining the UFW. However, those votes were never officially counted.
“They refused to count the votes because it’s real obvious that they’re going to lose, the union would. So the ALRB says, ‘Well, we just won’t count the votes,’ ” Radanovich explained.
According to him, the employment landscape has changed dramatically since the establishment of the UFW in 1962, essentially making the UFW obsolete. “The reason UFW is so weak and they can’t get membership is because the farmworker is pretty well off today having a good relationship with their employer, and that’s better than union status. The farmworker really is in a better position if he’s got a good relationship with the grower, which accounts for about 90 percent of what’s out there in ag labor today,” Radanovich said.
Radanovich is also a wine grape grower in Mariposa and has a first-hand understanding of just how hardworking and appreciated farmworkers are. “Growers know that if they don’t take care of their farmworkers, there’s going to be nobody there to pick the fruit. So there’s a natural inclination for the farmer to want to take care of the farmworker. And none of that is accounted for in the way that the ALRB implements these rules.”
The ALRB is designed to be a neutral organization, but filling it with so many UFW sympathizers appears to be a significant conflict of interest. “It’s really unjust. The ALRB is not there to promote union membership; they’re there to protect the farmworker and I think they’ve lost their focus. … I mean, you only need a union in there if the grower has failed the farmworker and that’s not happening,” Radanovich said. “They’re taking good care of their farmworkers and giving them opportunity and providing them a living at the prevailing wage.”