Gerawan Worker Votes to Be Counted in Fresno

Historic Day Following Five Years of Vote Count Suppression

News Release Edited By Patrick Cavanaugh

Today, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board announced that it will count the votes of Gerawan Farms workers after five years of illegally refusing to tally the ballots.

Supreme Court

Silvia Lopez, Gerawan farm worker spokesperson

Determined to avoid having union dues taken from their wages by a union that had abandoned the workers for almost two decades, Silvia Lopez and the Gerawan Farms employees courageously organized themselves in opposition to forced union membership. In November of 2013, thousands of Gerawan Farms employees voted on whether or not they would be represented by the United Farm Workers (UFW) in the largest worker election in ALRB history.

For five long years, the ALRB has suppressed the vote by refusing to count the ballots while the workers fought to vindicate their civil rights.   The Fifth District Court of Appeal in Fresno ruled in May that the suppression of the vote violated the workers’ statutory and Constitutional rights, and ordered the votes counted. Only after a dismissal of all appeals by the California Supreme Court did the government finally agree to count the ballots.

At 8:30 am on September 18, 2018, the ballots will be removed from the ALRB safe for inspection by the parties, and transportation to Fresno.

The ballots will be counted at 2550 Mariposa Mall, Room 1036 in Fresno at approximately 10:00 am. This tally represents a victory for farmworker rights over a union and a government agency that has tried to silence them.

2018-09-17T17:56:17-07:00September 17th, 2018|

Court Awards Right to Choose to Gerawan Farming and its Farmworkers

By Laurie Greene, Editor, and Patrick Cavanaugh, News Director

Gerawan Farming, a major family-owned and operated tree fruit and grape operation in Fresno and Madera Counties, established in 1938, and its farmworkers were victorious yesterday when a panel of 5th District California Court of Appeal judges in Fresno ruled the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) violated the law when it forced Gerawan into a statutory Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation (MMC) process with the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) to reach terms in a collective bargaining agreement.

The Court’s decision, filed May 14, 2015, states:

UFW was certified as the employees’ bargaining representative in 1992, but after engaging in initial discussions with Gerawan, disappeared from the scene for nearly two decades. In late 2012, UFW returned and both parties renewed negotiations. A few months later, at UFW’s request, the ALRB (the Board) ordered the parties to a statutory MMC process pursuant to Labor Code section 1164 et seq.1.

Under the MMC process, if a 30-day mediation period does not succeed in producing a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) by voluntary agreement, the mediator decides what the terms of the CBA should be and reports that determination to the Board. Once the mediator’s report becomes the final order of the Board, the report establishes the terms of an imposed CBA to which the parties are bound.

Following the ALRB’s final order adopting the mediator’s report, Gerawan Farming challenged the validity of the order and the MMC process on both statutory and constitutional grounds.

Over the last two years since, the UFW and Gerawan have been mired in a legal battle over who has the authority to represent the nearly 3,000 Gerawan fieldworkers in contract negotiations with Gerawan Farms, the union or the fieldworkers themselves.

A union contract was never implemented by Gerawan employees in the 1990’s, nor did the UFW collect dues and represent the employees in negotiations. Gerawan employees worked hard to advocate and petition (twice) to hold an ALRB-sanctioned election to decertify the union. The decertification election was held in November 2013; however, the ALRB impounded the ballots, and has not counted the votes to date.

Paul Bower, an attorney representing Sylvia Lopez, a Gerawan employee who helped lead the anti-union drive, said, “Gerawan workers are joyful over the decision.”

Here are excepts from the Court Decision:

Among Gerawan’s claims is the contention that UFW’s lengthy absence resulted in an abandonment of its status as the employee’s bargaining representative. We agree with Gerawan’s statutory argument that it should have been given an opportunity to prove abandonment to the Board once UFW requested the MMC process.

More fundamentally, we agree with Gerawan’s constitutional arguments that the MMC statute violates equal protection principles and constitutes an improper delegation of legislative authority.

Where a union has arguably abandoned the employees but later returns to invoke the MMC process, that situation may create a crisis of representation. It is clear that the employees’ right to a representative of their own choosing would be seriously jeopardized in the situation of abandonment by a union where, as here, the absentee union suddenly reappeared on the scene to demand the MMC process.

A union that has had little or no contact with the employees or the employer over many years (here, decades) would be unlikely to have an adequate working knowledge of the employees’ situation or their wishes. From the employees’ standpoint, that union would be reappearing on the scene as something of a stranger.

Most importantly, during the union’s long absence, the employees’ working conditions, wages and attitude toward the union (if they even knew they had a union) may have significantly changed over the years. Indeed, it may be the case that the employees do not want to be represented by that union or any other union, which Gerawan asserts was the situation here.

[Under the MMC process,] “a collective bargaining agreement will be imposed whether the employees want it or not; and it will be imposed with the formerly absent union, whether the employees want its representation or not.” Accordingly, it is appropriate to allow the employer to raise the abandonment issue at that stage, because only that result will preserve the ALRA’s purpose of protecting the employees’ right to choose.

UFW officials said they would appeal the Court’s decision.

2016-05-31T19:30:24-07:00May 16th, 2015|
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