Farmworkers Win One

Barry Bedwell: Court Decision Returns Constitutional Rights to Farmworkers

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

Barry Bedwell, president of the Fresno-based California Fresh Fruit Association, discussed the implications of a unanimous decision on May 9, 2016, the California Fifth District Court of Appeal struck down as unconstitutional a 2002 law that stripped workers of their constitutional right to seek invalidation of unlawful Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) decisions in Superior Court.

Barry Bedwell, president of California Fresh Fruit Association
Barry Bedwell, president of California Fresh Fruit Association

According to a Gerawan press release:

This case arose after a Gerawan farmworker Lupe Garcia filed a lawsuit in Fresno Superior Court in which he claimed that the First Amendment was violated when the ALRB refused to permit him to silently observe the ALRB’s “on the record” proceedings concerning the terms of a contract to be imposed on him and all other Gerawan farm employees. Gerawan Farming supported Mr. Garcia in the Court of Appeal and in the Superior Court, and filed its own action seeking the same relief. The 39-page decision in Garcia and Gerawan Farming, Inc. v. ALRB, Case No. F069896, held that the California Constitution barred the California Legislature from stripping workers of the right to bring claims in Superior Court. In reversing the dismissal of Mr. Garcia’s lawsuit, the Court of Appeal directed the Superior Court to hear the employee’s case.

Bedwell said while this was good news for the farmworkers because they can’t be barred from secret meetings, “it’s even more technical than that. It says [ALRB] cannot deny [farmworkers] the right to sue to be there.” Previously, according to Bedwell, ALRB claimed farmworkers “could not sue in Superior Court on this issue of being denied access to the mandatory mediation hearing. This Court of Appeals has decided that was unconstitutional, that [farmworkers] can now move forward and sue under the theory that their First Amendment rights were denied.”

“I don’t think [the court decision] solves the entire issue,” Bedwell said, “but it clearly indicates the ALRB has really overstepped their boundaries, not only in the case of denying access to these farmworkers, but not allowing the ballots to be counted. What it really indicates is the ALRB is once again denying farmworker rights at a time they should be representing them. This is just more evidence that, unfortunately, the ALRB seems to be more directed towards protecting the union rather than the workers’ rights. This is a continuing pattern; it’s clear that the ALRB is not representing the farmworkers, they are representing the union, and that’s unfortunate.”

In terms of next steps, Bedwell thinks the ALRB may decide—as a policy—they won’t deny access. He commented, “It essentially may have accomplished what the farmworkers wanted in the whole question—of just being able to observe the mandatory mediation process. These were people who were going to be subject to the [union contract] terms, but the ALRB said, ‘Oh no, we don’t want you in. We only want the union representatives in.’ That’s pretty poor,” stated Bedwell.

“The system unfortunately is so biased and heavily weighted toward organized labor,” he continued. “I’m not sure what it’s going to take. I suspect that if we’re going to find justice for Gerawan employees, it’s not going to come through the agencies in Sacramento; it’s going to have to come through the courts.”

Water Initiative Approved by AG

California Water Priorities Initiative Goes to Ballot

The Attorney General of California, Kamala Harris, has prepared the following title and summary of the chief purpose and points of the proposed water initiative:

WATER BOND. REALLOCATION OF BOND AUTHORITY TO WATER STORAGE PROJECTS. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT AND STATUTE.

Prioritizes water uses in California, with domestic uses first and irrigation uses second, over environmental, recreational, and other beneficial uses. Reallocates up to $10.7 billion in unused bond authority from existing high-speed rail ($8.0 billion) and water storage ($2.7 billion) purposes, to fund water storage projects for domestic and irrigation uses.

Removes requirement that water storage projects funded by the $2.7 billion amount also benefit the environment. Creates new State Water and Groundwater Storage Facilities Authority to choose the projects to be funded by reallocated bond amounts. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government:

No significant increase or decrease in the state’s anticipated debt payments from the redirection of up to $10.7 billion in bonds from previously approved measures, assuming these bonds would have been sold in the future absent this measure. Unknown net fiscal effects on state and local governments due to measure’s changes to how water is prioritized in the State Constitution, as well as potential changes to funding levels available for capital projects.

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“Measure is an opportunity for California’s people to influence the state’s priorities directly” said California Water Alliance, executive director Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director of the California Water Alliance, which is the sponsor of the water initiative.

“It’s a rare chance for the people of California to tell the state to get its priorities straight,” Bettencourt said. “High-speed rail is an unpopular boondoggle and a reliable water supply means more to the people and economy of this state in light of the current drought than ever before. Californians want to prepare the state for inevitable new droughts yet to come.”

Bettencourt emphasized that adding more storage to the state and federal water project systems will benefit more than just people and food producers, it will mean that wildlife refuges and habitats throughout the state will benefit from additional water when new droughts inevitably arrive. “The measure will give the system more operational flexibility and more options,” she said.

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About the California Water Alliance

The California Water Alliance is a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness about the nature of water and promoting long-term, sustainable solutions that meet the health and security needs of families, cities, businesses, farmers and the environment. 

About the California Water Alliance Initiative Fund Committee

The California Water Alliance Initiative Fund Committee (FPPC ID#1381113), sponsored by the California Water Alliance, a non-profit IRC §501(c)(4) organization, is a state primarily formed ballot measure recipient committee organized to qualify two or more state ballot measures for the November 2016 ballot. It is permitted to accept unlimited, non-tax-deductible donations from individuals, corporations, partnerships, nonprofit organizations, and any other lawfully permissible sources.