Jesse Rojas, the spokesperson for Pick Justice, summarized the July 24, ALRB decision in favor of the Gerawan farm workers as “amazing.” The ALRB ruled the UFW broke the law and violated the rights of Gerawan farm workers on September 9, 2015, at a public hearing conducted by the ALRB in a hotel in Fresno.
At the 2015 public hearing, Nancy Oropeza, a UFW organizer, instructed hotel security to ban Gerawan Pick Justice employees from attending—in violation of their protected concerted activity. ALRB Administrative Law Judge Mark R. Soble (ALJ) issued the decision that the UFW violated the Agriculture Labor Relations Act by temporarily excluding a group of pro-decertification, anti-UFW farm workers of Gerawan at the recent hearing based on witness interviews and, more importantly, a video that captured everything.
“As you know, with these legal matters,” Rojas explained, “the UFW unfortunately still has the right to appeal it, even though a remedy has been issued. The remedy includes posting notices, just like typical unfair labor practices, to let employees know the UFW broke the law and that it is not supposed to happen again.”
“Ultimately, the ALRB—an unelected, governor-appointed board—has the authority to make the ultimate decision to uphold the ALJ’s full decision, to change it, or to deny it,” Rojas remarked.
“What is a bit disturbing, especially if you compare other cases where the ALRB is very strong against a company or a grower for violating employees’ rights,” he continued, “is the three ALRB members in Sacramento did not want the UFW to advertise the Judge’s remedial message that the UFWbroke the lawon theUFW’s La Campesina Radio Network. Furthermore, the ALRB did not uphold the ALJ’s recommendation to retrain their organizers so this does not happen again.”
“But because Judge Sobel publicly claimed that the video was a very persuasive piece of evidence,” said Rojas, “the ALRB still upheld that the UFW violated the law. So, the ALRB toned down the severity of the issue and basically just gave [the UFW] a slap on the hand. But we are hopeful that eventually, even if the UFW appeals, this will get remedied and the employees at Gerawan will know that the UFW broke the law and that they have the right to attend a public government hearing.”
Pick Justice is an organization that advocates for 99 percent of the farm workers in the state of California to protect both their freedom to choose their own labor representation as well as their constitutional rights. Pick Justice has supported the Gerawan farm workers in their ongoing legal attempt to mandate the courts to force the ALRB to count their votes from a 2013 election to decertify the UFW as their labor representative.
Post-Labor Day, Forced Unionization Hearing at CA Supreme Court
By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor
Forced Unionization Hearing
On Tuesday, Sept. 5, one day after Labor Day, busloads of concerned farmers and farm workers will arrive at the Supreme Court of California in San Francisco to support Gerawan Farming and farm workers—and quite possibly 80,000 family farms in the state—against forced unionization in the first case on the Court’s agenda: Gerawan Farming, Inc. v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board (United Farm Workers of America, Real Party in Interest) and Consolidated Case, S227243 (Kline, P. J., assigned justice pro tempore).
Gerawan Case History
Explaining the case history, David Schwarz, attorney for Gerawan Farming, Inc. from the Los Angeles-based law firm of Irell & Manella LLP, said, “This case began almost five years ago in mid-October of 2012. The United Farm Workers (UFW) sent a letter to Gerawan Farming demanding that the company resume bargaining over a collective bargaining agreement. The UFW had won an election at Gerawan in 1990 and was certified to represent the workers by the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) in 1992. After one preliminary negotiating session in early 1995, the union disappeared and wasn’t heard from by Gerawan for nearly 20 years.”
“The UFW resurfaced in late 2012 demanding negotiations,” Schwarz stated, “but after ten bargaining sessions, the union abandoned the bargaining table.” This scenario was similar to UFW’s behavior after having won several certification elections by California farm workers employed on separately-owned farms but was unable to obtain first contracts with many growers on behalf of these farm workers.
Farm Worker Rights under the Agricultural Labor Relations Act
According to the ALRB website, all agricultural employees in California, whether or not they are represented by a labor organization (union), have certain rights under the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA or Act). The purpose of the Act is to ensure peace in the agricultural fields by guaranteeing justice for all agricultural workers and stability in labor relations. The ALRA became law in 1975.
The Act describes and protects the rights of agricultural employees to make their own decisions about whether or not they want a union to negotiate with their employer about their wages, hours, and other working conditions. Where the employees, through a secret ballot election, have selected a union to represent them, the Act requires that the employer bargain in good faith with the union concerning wages, hours, and other working conditions.
The Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) is the state agency established to enforce the Act.
Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation (MMC)
“At this juncture, UFW invoked a process known as “Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation (MMC), a euphemism for forced-contracting, passed by the legislature in 2002 at the behest of UFW,” Schwarz explained. “Through MMC, the State of California imposes a contract on the employer and its farm workers at the union’s request. In Gerawan’s case, the failure to reach a contract can be explained by the failure of the UFW to show up and attempt to negotiate; however, that failure to bargain—or for that matter, the union’s complete abandonment of the Gerawan farm workers—was deemed irrelevant in the eyes of the ALRB.”
“The ALRB argued that the union certification in 1992 means the UFW remains the perpetual representative of Gerawan workers now and forever,” said Schwarz, “and until such time as the workers vote the union out through a petitioned election process known as decertification.” The ALRB disregarded both UFW’s failure to represent Gerawan farm workers in any successful contract negotiation and the UFW’s failure to qualify to collect union dues from Gerawan farm workers. Most significantly, the ALRB disregarded the legally-sanctioned and ALRB-supervised election on November 5, 2013, in which Gerawan farm workers had the opportunity to vote to decertify the UFW or not—the ballots of which have never been counted and are believed to be stored in an unknown, unsecured location.
“Let’s be clear,” Schwarz explained, “at no point after this union was certified until this union invoked the MMC process, was there an allegation that Gerawan refused to show up or refused to negotiate the terms of the contract. So this is not a case about a grower refusing to show up at the bargaining table or a grower inserting that the abandonment forfeits the right of the union to bargain.”
“Rather, this is a case about whether or not the union’s abandonment means that it forfeits the right to compel the State of California to force a contracting process on the workers. And that’s the key difference: between duty to bargain, which is a continuous bargain, and the right, as the union claims, to impose a state-ordered contract.”
What is at Stake for Farm Workers?
Tal Cloud, president and co-founder of Fresno-based family-owned Paper Pulp & Film, Inc., a converter of printing and industrial papers, including raisin (drying) trays, is part of the team that organized the trip. Cloud said, “The UFW and the California ALRB are hoping the California Supreme Court will rule in their favor by forcing unionization on California farms and farm workers—the next flash point in the two-decade long battle between Gerawan Farming and the UFW.”
“People don’t understand that this is incrementalism,” Cloud said. “If the California Supreme Court rules against Gerawan, it literally puts every agricultural operation of any size in the state right in the “bulls-eye” for mandatory UFW unionization, and that is what is so concerning. And although people do not understand it, the laws are already all there; they just need to be formalized. So, yes, it is really scary.”
“The ALRB has power in these courts due to California legislators who have given the ALRB all these powers, but without checks or balances,” said Cloud. “So, you have an agency that basically plays god with people’s lives and there are no legitimate governmental organizations or courts looking at it, until now that [the forced unionization case] has come to the California Supreme Court.”
The upcoming California Supreme Court hearing follows the UFW’s appeal of a lower court ruling in favor of Gerawan on the same issue in 2015. “We are hoping that the Court goes by the law, and does not give [the ALRB and UFW] this kind of opportunity to really put all of our operations in California at risk for forced unionization and forced contracts,” Cloud said.
“The bus trip on Tuesday is to make a statement and not sit by silently. The hearing is at 9:00 A.M., and more than 300 people from the Valley are going. We are leaving at 3:30 AM, providing food for our passengers and protesting outside the Supreme Court. The UFW also will be rallying at the Supreme Court.
It remains uncertain if farm workers will be allowed inside the courtroom. Cloud said, “There has already been a lot of back and forth about not allowing any farm workers, or Silvia Lopez (the Gerawan farm worker spokesperson) into the courtroom. The attorneys are still fighting on that. But there will be a big protest, so to speak, outside.”
“There are public areas for us to be in, and we will be peaceful like all the other demonstrations that we have done,” Cloud said. “My hope is that everyone stays safe and we do not have extremists or rabble-rousers there who try to cause problems.”
Cloud said there is a glimmer of hope for the farming industry because the UFW lost to the lower courts. “But, you just don’t know. We are hoping these farmers, farm workers and protesters will bring attention to this issue,” he said.
Once the California Supreme Court hearing is completed, the court will have 90 days to make its ruling. “The reality is: If agriculture does not get behind the effort against MMC now, and the California Supreme Court reverses the lower court’s decision, literally every farming organization in California could face unionization. And that is a scary thought,” said Cloud.
“Likewise, if the ruling goes against the UFW,” Cloud said, “I am sure the case will go to United States Supreme Court, which would certainly be a do-or-die point for agriculture.”
ALRB Rejects Gerawan’s Motion to Disqualify Isadore Hall III
By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor
Our ongoing coverage of developments among United Farm Workers (UFW), Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB), Gerawan Farming, Inc. and California farm workers chronicles the continuing, increasingly complex quagmire that masquerades as protecting California farm workers’ rights.
In short, after a series of legal volleys between Gerawan Farming and ALRB this past spring, the ALRB, again, refused to disqualify ALRB Member Isadore Hall III, former state senator (35th District, D-Compton), from participating in specific Gerawan legal cases on the basis of alleged pro-UFW bias.
In legal terms, ALRB issued an administrative order on June 9, 2017, denying Gerawan Farming, Inc.’s May 23, 2017 motion for reconsideration of request to disqualify Isadore Hall III from participating in specific case deliberations and decisions regarding Gerawan Farming, Inc. Likewise, ALRB also denied Gerawan’s request for a stay of the proceedings pending resolution of Mr. Hall’s participation.
Condensed Early History
The UFW was certified as the bargaining representative for Gerawan’s agricultural employees in July 1992, after a 1990 election. After one preliminary negotiating session in February 1995, the UFW disappeared for almost two decades, having never collected dues, negotiated for a wage increase, attempted to bargain for a contract or filed a single grievance on behalf of Gerawan employees during their abandonment, according to an April 17, 2017, Gerawan news release.
In 2013, the UFW invoked a controversial 2002 Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation (MMC) law that allows the ALRB to draft and impose a “contract” on the employer and employees against their will. UFW also proposed that Gerawan employees pay 3% of their wages to the UFW or be fired. Fewer than 1% of the current Gerawan workforce voted in the 1990 election, and many current employees were not even born when that election took place.
The majority of employees twice asked ALRB for an election to decertify the UFW. At the ALRB’s request, the Fresno Superior Court intervened and supervised the decertification petition process—the first time in ALRB history that a court oversaw an ALRB election.
On November 5, 2013, thousands of Gerawan workers cast secret ballots to decide whether to decertify the UFW. The ALRB impounded the ballots, which remain uncounted to this date in an undisclosed (possibly insecure) location.
Current History – 2017
Appointment of Isadore Hall III to ALRB
In his January 13, 2017, letter of resignation to Governor Brown as ALRB Chairman, William B. Gould IV stated that the Agricultural Labor Relations Act [ALRA or “Act”] “is now irrelevant to farm workers, in particular, because, for the most part, they are not aware of the provisions, procedures, and rights contained in the law.”
“I have pointed out [in several speeches] that only one representation petition has been filed during the 34 months of my Chairmanship,” Gould continued. “More than 99% of the agricultural workforce appears to be unrepresented and the instances of unfair labor practice charges and invocation of the Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation Act (MMC) are few and far between.”
“Regrettably, though the Board adopted the proposed rule 14 months ago for worker education about the Act’s features, the rule has languished in the bowels of state bureaucracy for the past 14 months. My view is that this long delay is substantially attributable to the fact that the ALRB, unlike the NLRB, is not a standalone, independent administrative agency.”
Also on January 13, 2017, Governor Brown designated Genevieve Shiroma as Chair of the ALRB, where she had served as a member since 1999, an appointment that did not require Senate confirmation. Likewise, Governor Brown appointed Isadore Hall III, and the California Senate confirmed his appointment, despite Hall’s public history of pro-UFW activity and endorsements and allegations that he threatened farmers who opposed his nomination.
Agricultural Community Responds to Hall’s Appointment
In “Farmers Deserve a Balanced Ag Labor Board,”a letter published in the Sacramento Bee on February 23, 2017 by George Radanovich, (president of the California Fresh Fruit Association), Joel Nelsen (president of California Citrus Mutual) and Tom Nassif (president of Western Growers Association), the authors explained, “The purpose of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA) was to bring about a sense of justice and fair play during a tumultuous time in the farm fields of California in 1975.”
“When the ALRB was formed in 1975,” the authors stated, “it was with the understanding that membership would consist of two members representing labor, two representing agriculture, and one public or neutral member. Instead, the board has become one of the most contentious, lopsided administrative boards ever assembled by the state of California. The recent resignation of Chairman William Gould IV and his prompt replacement by former state Sen. Isadore Hall, D- Compton, only further illustrate this imbalance.”
In place of conducting outreach to all affected stakeholders, including agriculture, “in a matter of 48 hours, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed a termed-out state senator and failed congressional candidate who has no labor law background whatsoever but with strong ties to the UFW.”
Hall’s UFW ties were listed as “financial support by the UFW, personal ties with UFW President Arturo Rodriguez and raising the union banner while marching with the UFW. While a state senator, Hall was the principal co-author of two UFW-sponsored bills and voted in favor of two other bills that would make it easier to force ALRB-written contracts on farmers and workers. These close ties should disqualify him from the position where he will judge UFW issues almost daily.”
“There is no denying that the ALRB’S recent decision to prevent the disclosure of the November 2013 election results, from the high-profile decertification fiasco of Gerawan Farming of Fresno was to cover up the fact that most farm workers don’t want to unionize.”
“Today, California farm workers are protected by the strictest labor laws in the nation, and they decline to unionize because they value a good employer over a union. Brown should recognize this and rewrite the ALRA to guarantee employer representation on the board. California farmers deserve better than a lopsided Agricultural Labor Relations Board.”
ALRB Decides Gerawan Negotiated “in Bad Faith”
On April 14, 2017, ALRB Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) William Schmidt issued an interim decision finding that Gerawan committed an unfair labor practice by refusing to negotiate “in good faith” with the UFW. Essentially Judge Schmidt contended, “Gerawan engaged in collective bargaining negotiations with the UFW with no intention of reaching an agreement covering the wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment for the employees in the collective bargaining unit.”
According to David Schwarz, counsel for Gerawan Farming, “This decision was riddled with legal and factual errors. The most glaring of these errors was the fact that ALJ Schmidt found that Gerawan failed to negotiate when it had already been ordered to [follow] a process [MMC] where traditional give-and-take negotiation had been replaced by government-imposed forced contracting.”
According to an April 17, 2017 Gerawan newss release, “The so-called MMC procedures are neither consensual nor voluntary. It is forced contracting. The ALRB tells the employer what wages to pay, what employees to hire, or fire, or promote, and what portion of the employees’ salary will be turned over to the union. The employer may not opt out and the employees are not given the choice to ratify or reject the so-called contract that will be forced on them, even if there are provisions detrimental to them.”
“There is a fundamental – and constitutional – difference between consensual bargaining and state-compelled contracting,” said Dan Gerawan, president and CEO of Gerawan Farming. “The ALJ obliterates this distinction.”
Gerawan added that MMC does not facilitate negotiations. Rather, it is an imposed agreement by force of law and Gerawan was compelled to abide by it.
Schwarz explained, “Per the ALRB’s own regulations, MMC kicks in only after the Board has certified that further negotiation between the parties would be futile.”
At that point, according to Schwarz, a government-appointed arbitrator steps in, hears evidence from each party, drafts a CBA (or collective bargaining agreement), which the Board approves and imposes on the parties by force of law. Since there is no place for negotiation in this process, Schwarz contends there is no logical or legal basis for ALJ Schmidt to conclude that Gerawan’s conduct during MMC could justify his finding that Gerawan failed to negotiate in good faith with the UFW.
Gerawan Files Motion to Disqualify Member Hall from participating in “Bad Faith” Negotiating Case
On April 28, 2017, Gerawan Farming, Inc. filed a Motion to Disqualify Board Member Isadore Hall from participating in the deliberations in the case above based on documented “sweeping prejudicial” statements Member Hall made against Gerawan.
“Our DQ motion was very compelling,” Dan Gerawan said. “Hall marched specifically against us and our employees and received an endorsement from UFW in return. It’s ridiculous that he was assigned to a job where 90% of his work will be to adjudicate UFW-related issues, and half of his work will be Gerawan-related.”
ALRB Rejects Gerawan’s Motions to Disqualify ALRB Member Hall and to Request a Stay from Participating in “Bad Faith” Negotiating Case
On May 18, 2017, the ALRB rejected Gerawan’s motions to disqualify ALRB member Isadore Hall and to request a stay in order to resolve the motion to disqualify.
“Hall’s disqualification would leave the ALRB without a current valid quorum of three members to hear the case,” Schwarz said, “thus lacking the statutory power to act. The Governor can resolve this issue by simply doing what the ALRA requires him to do – appoint two additional ALRB members, thus bringing the Board to its statutorily-requisite composition, which is five members.”
Gerawan Files Motion for Reconsideration of the Board’s Order Denying Motion to Disqualify Member Hall
On May 23, 2017, Gerawan filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the Board’s Order Denying Motion to Disqualify Member Hall, repeating its request for a stay of the proceedings pending resolution of the motion.
“Gerawan filed this motion for reconsideration both to correct serious legal errors in the Board’s initial decision,” Schwarz said, “and to bring to light new evidence regarding the identity of an individual who participated in a conversation with Mr. Hall in which Mr. Hall stated that he was going to ‘get’ Gerawan once he was a member of the Board. This individual, Mr. Shaun Ramirez, provided a declaration in support of Gerawan’s first motion to disqualify Member Hall. However, Mr. Ramirez and his employer, concerned that the Board (or Mr. Hall) might retaliate against them for speaking out, initially asked that Mr. Ramirez’s identity remain confidential.”
“The Board initially refused to consider Mr. Ramirez’s declaration – precisely because he asked that Gerawan not reveal his name for fear of retaliation. After the Board denied Gerawan’s motion to disqualify Mr. Hall, Mr. Ramirez allowed Gerawan to file an unredacted version of his declaration with this motion for reconsideration. This declaration set out in great detail Mr. Ramirez’s interactions with Mr. Hall and Mr. Hall’s statement, in reference to Gerawan, ‘I am going to get their ass.’”
ALRB Denies Gerawan’s Motion For Reconsideration to Disqualify Board Member Hall from Deliberations in this Case
On June 9, 2017, ALRB denied both Gerawan’s motion for reconsideration to disqualify Board Member Hall from deliberations in the case and Gerawan’s request for reconsideration of an immediate stay of the proceedings.
“As discussed,” Schwarz said, “Gerawan filed a motion for reconsideration with an unredacted version of Mr. Ramirez’s declaration. The Board again refused to consider Mr. Ramirez’s detailed account of his conversation with Member Hall. The Board took the position that it was under no requirement to consider such evidence in a motion for reconsideration, as the declaration was not ‘newly discovered’ or ‘previously unavailable.’ The Board discounted Mr. Ramirez’s reasons for desiring anonymity, and disregarded the merits of his sworn statement, without explaining why the revelation of his identity did not require it to reconsider the basis [the anonymity of the declarant] for disregarding it in the first place.”
“Of equal significance is that Mr. Hall participated in deciding his own disqualification motion,” Schwarz added. “This violates a basic rule of due process and long-standing Board precedent that a member accused of bias cannot decide his own disqualification motion. Instead, Member Hall offered his own statement that he was not biased against Gerawan, albeit without denying or affirming the truth of Mr. Ramirez’s declaration.”
“Unlike Mr. Ramirez,” said Schwarz, “Member Hall’s ‘concurring’ opinion was not under oath.”
In the official ALRB Decision, Hall wrote, “I reject the claims of bias leveled against me by Gerawan and decline to recuse myself from participation in the deliberations in this case.”
In reaction to the Board’s refusal to disqualify Member Hall, Schwarz said, “Gerawan will appeal the Board’s decision. We are confident that this unprecedented and unconstitutional decision will not stand.”
Featured photo: Isadore Hall III marching with UFW prior to ALRB appointment.
In his 1984 Address to the Commonwealth Club of California, American labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez explained that he cofounded the National Farm Workers Association, the forerunner to UFW, in 1962 “to overthrow a farm labor system in this nation which treats farm workers as if they were not important human beings.” Yet recent developments among United Farm Workers (UFW), Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB), Gerawan Farming, Inc. and farm workers illustrate the continuing, increasingly complex quagmire that masquerades as protecting California farm workers’ rights.
ALRB Chairman William B. Gould IV, who resigned on January 13, wrote to Governor Jerry Brown that the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA) is irrelevant to farm workers because they are unaware of the law’s provisions, procedures and rights.
“The instances of unfair labor practice charges and invocation of the Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation Act (MMC) are few and far between,” Gould explained. “There is no union organizing which might make workers aware of the [ALRA].” He added that only one union representation petition was filed during his 3-year tenure.
Nevertheless, under Gould’s watch, the ALRB doubled both its staff and taxpayer-funded budget to harass Gerawan and its farm workers.
Remarkably, on March 26, Monterey County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wills ruled that the UFW underpaid their own employees. Consequently, UFW must pay a $1.2 million award that includes funds to plaintiff former UFW employee Francisco Cerritos and other internal organizers, sums to other members of the class action suit for pay stub violations and penalties for California Labor Code Violations.
“It’s unfortunate that a union asks for laws to be respected,” plaintiff Cerritos said, “but [the union does] not respect them.” The UFW, Cesar Chavez’s legacy, has shortchanged its own workers.
Furthermore, ALRB whistleblower Pauline Alvarez, a 30-year former ALRB field examiner, filed a retaliation lawsuit in 2015 against the ALRB, which is still pending in Sacramento Superior Court. According to a February 27 Gerawan press release, Alvarez alleges that she recommended to former ALRB chief counsel Sylvia Torres-Guillén the dismissal of cases in which the UFW failed to cooperate and provide witnesses and evidence to support its allegations. Alvarez claims Torres-Guillén directed her and other field examiners “to dredge up witnesses that would assist the UFW’s position.”
Alvarez also asserts that she protested the settlement of farm worker cases against the UFW that contained sufficient evidence to establish UFW violations of the law. Stunningly, she affirms that the ALRB refused “to notify workers of their rights to file charges against the UFW when the UFW violated the workers’ rights,” and the “ghostwriting” of the UFW legal brief by the ALRB staff.
Perhaps most astonishing, the ALRB withheld this whistleblower’s report from ongoing legal proceedings with Gerawan and Gerawan farm workers for seven months.
Most recently, ALRB Administrative Law Judge William L. Schmidt issued a decision on April 14 in favor of the UFW, finding Gerawan violated labor law by negotiating a collective-bargaining agreement with UFW “in bad faith”— commonly called “surface bargaining”— in the eight-month period from January 2013 through August 2013.
To explain this decision in context, the UFW was voted in by Gerawan farmworkers in a runoff election in 1990 and certified by the ALRB in 1992. Significantly, UFW never reached a contract to represent Gerawan farm workers in wage negotiations with their employer. Neither did the UFW collect dues from or provide services for the farm workers, reportedly among the highest-paid in the industry.
The UFW effectively abandoned the Gerawan farm workers – that is, until 2012, after the California State Legislature amended the Agricultural Labor Relations Act to allow and accelerate an imposed mandatory mediation and conciliation process for union contracts. Thus, UFW offered a new contract proposal, via imposed mandatory mediation, to Gerawan farm workers.
Meanwhile, during the same time period in which Gerawan supposedly negotiated with UFW in bad faith, Gerawan farm workers were actively collecting signatures to petition the decertification of the UFW as their bargaining representative. The ballots cast in the ALRB-certified election in November 2013 have never been counted, to this day. Rather, they were sealed and stored in an undisclosed location, allegedly in ALRB custody.
Who is safeguarding California farm workers’ rights?