SB 1409 Would Shut Down the Failed ALRB
By Jesse Rojas
Former President Ronald Reagan said, “No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. A government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth!”
However, SB 1409, a bill introduced by Senator Shannon Grove, would say enough is enough for one state board that no longer serves its original purpose.
The Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) was established in 1975 to oversee and protect the rights of agricultural employees to organize and decide whether or not to have labor unions represent them.
The ALRB has failed in its charge to protect the rights of all farm workers regardless of whether or not they belong to a union.
Nowhere is this more evident than in its seemingly cozy relationship with the United Farm Workers (UFW), especially as it relates to the UFW’s efforts to force a state-imposed union contract on Gerawan Farming against the will of a majority of Gerawan Farm employees. In further disgrace, this so-called non-negotiated union contract would have lowered the take-home pay of thousands of farmworkers.
It took over five years, the most prominent labor protests in California’s history, and several court decisions for the ALRB’s unjustified interference at Gerawan to come to an end. Estimates show the ALRB spent over $10 million taxpayer dollars in their attempt to suppress the voices of thousands of Latino immigrant farmworkers.
While this case received high profile attention, many agricultural producers have stories of the ALRB attorneys harassing employers and even workers who disagree with the Board’s union bias. This bias continues even today. The ALRB is inundated with headlines on corruption, segregation, bullying, harassment, conflicts of interest, whistleblowers, interference, and a long history of trampling workers’ rights.
Unfortunately for the ALRB, union activity in the agricultural sector has all but disappeared, while on some farms, employees are choosing to stop affiliating with the UFW.
Union activity is so low that a recent UC Merced study found that the number of agricultural workers who belong to a union is statistically zero, possibly only a few thousand out of 400,000 farmworkers statewide.
Former ALRB chairman William B. Gould quit in anger by sending a letter to former Governor Brown describing the 1975 law as “irrelevant to farmworkers” and that the UFW has “absolutely no interest in organizing the unorganized.”
With no union elections to oversee, what is the role now of the ALRB?
Indeed, the Board no longer serves its function. Of course, try telling that to the Board’s 44 staff attorneys who are now busy pursuing charges against employers for allegedly “bad” working conditions.
This change in focus by the ALRB is entirely duplicative of other state agencies like the California Department of Industrial Relations, the Employment Development Department, and the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Those departments already oversee employee facilities and accusations of unfair labor conditions, so why do we need the ALRB?
Senator Grove’s bill answers that question. There is no need for the Board anymore.
The Senator is proposing to take the $11 million that taxpayers spend on those attorneys who file make-work lawsuits against businesses and spend the money on much-needed farmworker housing.
Farmworker housing programs are notoriously underfunded. Helping actual farmworkers would be a more fitting way to spend the ALRB’s budget.
SB 1409 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Labor Committee on April 27th. Let’s hope Senators see the wisdom of putting an end to this government agency and prove President Reagan wrong.