Farmers Demand Special Master Preserve Uncounted Ballots
August 21, 2014
Farmworkers at Gerawan Farms have requested the United States District Court (USDC) assign a special master to take possession of their uncounted decertification election ballots.
The uncounted ballots have been in the possession of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB), which has been accused by both farmworkers and Fresno Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Y. Hamilton of being "in cahoots" with the United Farm Workers (UFW) union to suppress the farmworkers' votes.
"We don't trust the ALRB," said Gerawan farmworker Silvia Lopez, who filed the motion yesterday in federal court. "They have been working against us from day one and we don't believe they are fair or have our best interests in mind. We don't believe that the ballots are safe with them. A special master will guarantee that the ballots remain safe."
Ms. Lopez has also requested in the motion that if the USDC appoints a special master, the neutral third party should count the ballots. "There are strong judicial economy reasons to count the ballots, as well as elementary notions of fairness and justice that would support this decision," said Paul Bauer, attorney for Ms. Lopez.
The ALRB has engaged in a number of activities that proves it is neither impartial nor protecting the rights of the farmworkers, including:
- ALRB mediators refused to allow farmworkers to attend public Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation (MMC) hearings and contract negotiations.
- Of the nearly 2,500 signatures originally submitted for the decertification petition, the regional director claimed only 100 were invalid, meaning there were still enough valid signatures to require an election.
- Despite having 2,500 signatures—enough to trigger the decertification election—the regional director claimed there was not a sufficient showing of interest.
- Farmworkers then submitted 3,000 signatures in a fraction of the time taken to collect the first set. Three days later, the regional director used another excuse to deny the farmworkers' vote. This time he incorrectly stated that the union contract had been approved and the farmworkers were prohibited from holding a decertification election. The ALRB members in Sacramento overturned this action.
- For a third time, the regional director tried to stop the vote by engaging in a sham investigation. The ALRB office in Sacramento again overturned his ruling and instructed him that no other blocks to the decertification election were permitted.
- A legal decertification election was held on November 5, 2013, but the governor's ALRB has refused to count the ballots. The ballots are currently in possession of the same regional director who attempted to stop the election from happening three times.
- Despite a legal challenge to the MMC proceedings and the uncounted decertification ballots, the ALRB General Counsel attempted to impose the new UFW contract on the farmworkers by filing a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) in state court. The judge refused to grant the TRO.
Even Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Y. Hamilton, who presided over the TRO hearing, told the ALRB General Counsel, "In other words, it's a little bit disingenuous to say you're protecting these workers' rights; yet you're blocking their election at every turn."
"We hope the federal courts allow a special master take possession of our ballots," Lopez continued. "It's clear to everyone, even the court, that the ALRB doesn't work for us. Why should someone working for the people we're trying to fire get to keep control over our ballots? It's not fair and must be stopped."
To learn more about the farmworkers fight and to view this press release, please visit www.farmworkerrights.com.