Who Safeguards CA Farm Workers’ Rights? Part 5

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.”

Count our votes Farm workers' rights UFW Endorsement

“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.”


Who Safeguards CA Farm Workers’ Rights? Part 6 – Facts vs. PR

 

Who Safeguards California Farm Workers’ Rights? Part 3 – Bargaining in Bad Faith

What Does “Bad Faith” Mean?

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.

As previously published, 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.

“Candidly,” said Anthony Raimondo, president and owner of Raimondo & Associates and attorney for Silvia Lopez, the Gerawan Farming employee and petitioner to decertify the UFW from representing Gerawan farm workers, “it is not surprising to me at all that this type of decision went against the company, because this ALRB has been in the pocket of the [UFW] … this whole time.”

“This is very much what happened to the workers in the [decertification] election case,” Raimondo said, “when the ALRB refused to count the ballots. They slammed the workers for exercising their right to free speech—to protest. They attacked the workers for engaging in actions of civil disobedience, and they denied the workers the right to vote, essentially, by refusing to count the ballots.”

On March 20, the UFW filed a claim alleging that Gerawan violated the ALRA by “proposing and insisting on” the exclusion of the farm labor contractor (FLC) employees from the terms of any collective bargaining agreement the parties might conclude.

“What the union was claiming here,” Raimondo explained, “is that Gerawan had made a contract proposal, as I understand it, that said that the employees that it receives from farm labor contractors would be excluded from the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. According to both the UFW and the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, making such a proposal alone represents “bad faith bargaining.”

Raimondo Bad Faith“Bad faith bargaining is when you bargain without the intention to make an agreement,” Raimondo said. “In this case, for example, I don’t see how that could be possible in the Gerawan case because I’ve seen UFW contracts from the past that did exactly that—they agreed to exclude labor contract farm employees.”

“It is very common,” Raimondo explained. “I negotiate collective bargaining agreements all the time. It’s very common when you’re negotiating a collective bargaining agreement to look at other contracts in the same industry, with the same union, to get an idea of what they’ve agreed to in the past. I do not know how recently they’ve done it, but in past years, I have certainly seen contracts that the union has agreed to, where labor contractor employees were excluded.”

Among the mandates issued by ALRB Administrative Law Judge William L. Schmidt in his April 14 decision on Case 2013-CE-010-VIS is a requirement that Gerawan Farming cease and desist from persisting in its refusal to bargain with the UFW about the wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment for those members of the above bargaining unit who are employed by farm labor contractors.

“I personally am very skeptical of this decision,” Raimondo commented. “It seems to me to be a stretch of the whole idea of bad faith bargaining, which is bargaining without the intention to reach an agreement, especially since what we’re talking about here is a proposal. But the fact that an administrative law judge of the ALRB made a decision in favor of the UFW does not shock me at all.”

“It’s difficult for me to see how proposing something that a union had agreed to in another contract, with another employer, would trigger an accusation of ‘bad faith bargaining.’ I would be surprised if this stands up an appeal, but to me, it’s most indicative of what we’ve seen from the ALRB over the last few years, and it’s likely to continue. The ALRB is no longer an objective, independent state agency that enforces the law. This is an arm of the United Farm Workers Union, whose mission is to save this obsolete union from the consequences of its own failures.”

“Biased as the original election decision was against the farm workers, the one thing that really stood out to me, even for this biased judge,” Raimondo said, “is even the ALRB admitted that the movement in favor of decertification of the UFW was not started by Dan Gerawan. It was a movement that started organically among the workers; they organized themselves to take the action that they wanted to take.”

“The fact is,” Raimondo continued, “these workers had their minds made up. They were disgusted by the UFW’s absence, they were disgusted by the union trying to force a contract on them, without even talking to them about it first. When they found out that this contract was going be shoved down their throats, they organized themselves and they fought back. The ALRB wants to discredit the entire movement that exists amongst the Gerawan workers.”

ALRB Notice to Gerawan Employees

ALRB Notice to Gerawan Employees

“When you have a law that is designed to grant farm workers their voice, and their right to self-determination, as we have with this agricultural labor relations act, it seems to me to be an abomination, when you can acknowledge that workers organize themselves to be heard, and then you deny them that voice because of something that their employer did. What control do the workers have over their employer? The workers are now responsible for things that the employer does, that cost them their right to vote?”

“There is no basis in the law for this idea that the entire process is somehow tainted in a way that invalidates the election,” Raimondo said. “If you read the Agricultural Labor Relations Act and the case law, the law is very clear that when an election is held, the only time that we reverse the outcome of an election, or ignore the outcome of the ballots, is when there has been misconduct by a party that actually affected the outcome of the election.

“You can go back to cases from the ’70s and ’80s,” Raimondo continued, “where the UFW had protestors out there at the polls, and employers complained that that affected or influenced the workers, or intimidated them in some way. Unless the employer could show that there was some actual effect on how the workers voted—that affected the outcome of the election—the election would be upheld.”

“No one in this case has ever produced the slightest shred of evidence that anything that Gerawan did or said ever affected how these workers voted, or how they felt about the union. This idea of a so-called ‘tainted election,’ is something that was invented in the last few years by ALRB judges. It doesn’t appear in the law. This whole process has been biased.”

“In fact, more than anything else, the thing that shaped how the farm workers felt about the union was the 17 years when the union wasn’t there. The union has never had to defend their absence from Gerawan employees because the ALRB never forces them to answer for it. The ALRB considers that to be irrelevant.”

“Yet, they slander Gerawan. They discredit the workers’ efforts to organize themselves. They want to discredit the entire movement that exists amongst the Gerawan workers. They deny the workers the right to vote, but they completely ignore the fact that the union failed in its most fundamental purpose, which is to represent workers.”

Featured Photo: Attorney Anthony Raimondo


Who Safeguards CA Farm Workers’ Rights? Part 4 – Motion to Disqualify ALRB Member Hall

Safeguarding CA Farm Workers Rights – Part 2

Updates on California Farm Workers’ Rights 

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.

UFW Underpaid Employees – UPDATE

As previously reported, on March 26, Monterey County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wills ruled that the UFW underpaid their own employees and mandated the UFW to pay a $1.2 million award that covers former employees, organizers, and other members of the class action suit, as well as penalties for California Labor Code Violations.

On April 27, Judge Wills added $772,000 to UFW’s court expenses for attorney fees incurred by Noland, Hamerly, Etienne & Hoss (NHEH), the law firm that represented former UFW employee Francisco Cerritos in the class action and Private Attorney General Act lawsuit on behalf of himself and other current and former UFW employees.

In issuing the additional costs to the UFW, according to a May 3 NHEH press release, Judge Wills stated that, “The Court has not placed an amount to destroy someone, and the union does serve a socially laudable purpose, but (the union) has to follow the law; and when it doesn’t do so at the expense of others and that results in drawn out, protracted and complex litigation, it cannot expect the Court to turn a blind eye to what the consequences of what that conduct are.”

Gerawan Violated Labor Law by Negotiating “in bad faith”— UPDATE

As previously published, 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.

In an April 17 news release, Gerawan Farming called the April 14 decision of the Administrative Law Judge “erroneous” in that Gerawan did bargain in good faith. Further, Gerawan maintains that imposed mandatory mediation and conciliation does not constitute volitional negotiations. Gerawan will appeal this decision. The following are excerpts from this press release:

This unprecedented ruling would punish an employer for failing to “negotiate” the terms of a “contract” dictated and imposed by the ALRB. This is an in-house judge who is not independent; he is an employee of the ALRB. He criticizes Gerawan’s positions and second-guesses how it participated in what was supposed to be a confidential mediation and trial-like arbitration, but he never asked the only relevant question: How does this forced contracting process resemble a “negotiation”?

The so-called “mandatory mediation and conciliation” procedures (MMC) 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.

Gerawan had no choice but to submit to this coercive process.

…The UFW did not bargain; it asked the ALRB to impose terms, based on a forced contracting process the California Court of Appeal has since ruled to be unconstitutional (and is now under review before the California Supreme Court).

To date, UFW’s unexplained 17-year disappearance from the Gerawan farm workers remains unexplained. During its absence, the UFW never negotiated a single wage increase for any Gerawan employee, nor did it attempt to bargain for a contract, collect dues, or file a single grievance on behalf of the employees. Meanwhile, Gerawan claims its workers are among the highest paid in the industry.

Yet, the ALRB’s controversial 2002 MMC provision appears to allow this AWOL union to force current Gerawan farm workers to choose between paying union dues or losing their jobs. The majority of Gerawan 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 and election process. This was the first time in the history of the ALRB that a court oversaw an ALRB election.

As yet, ballots cast by Gerawan farm workers in the sanctioned November 2013 election to decertify the UFW have never been counted, are being stored in an undisclosed and possibly an insecure location, and are the target of legal attempts by the ALRB and UFW to be destroyed.

The Court of Appeal is preparing to decide whether the ALRB may deny employees the right to choose who will represent them at the bargaining table—a seemingly basic American democratic right. The California Supreme Court is preparing to decide whether the UFW’s longstanding abandonment of Gerawan’s employees justifies this forced contracting process. California farm workers deserve a full and fair hearing on these issues.


Who Safeguards California Farm Workers’ Rights? Part 3 – Bargaining in Bad Faith


Resources:

Gerawan February 27, 2017 press release, Gerawan Farming Asks Court to Order Disclosure of Information Related to ALRB ‘Whistleblower’ Allegations: A 30-year ALRB Employee Alleges Corruption Inside ALRB.”

ALRB Discharges Farmworker Vote, Part 1

ALRB Abolishes Gerawan Farmworker Vote

By Laurie Greene, Editor

The Ninth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States pays tribute to “unenumerated” rights of citizens—rights not specifiedsuch as the right to travel, to vote, to keep personal matters private and to make important decisions about one’s health care or body, as upheld by the Supreme Court over the years. Likewise, the cherished American legal notion of “No taxation without representation,” generally attributed to James Otis embraces “actual representation” over “virtual representation.”

Yet, Court documents issued on Friday, April 15, 2016, by the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) upheld the September 17, 2015 decision by Mark R. Soble, Administrative Law Judge, ALRB, to set aside farmworkers’ ballots in a 2013 election to decertify mandated representation by the United Farm Workers of America (UFW).

The following paraphrased issues were among ALRB findings:

Gerawan Farming committed unfair labor practices under California Labor Code section 1153 by providing unlawful assistance to the decertification effort against the UFW, directly soliciting grievances and granting employees a wage increase.

-Petitioner Silvia Lopez, a Gerawan farmworker, solicited and received an unlawful donation from an association of which Gerawan was a member.

The ALRB concluded these unlawful actions (a) make it impossible to know if the signatures collected represent the workers’ true sentiments and (b) created an environment, which would have made it impossible for true employee free choice when it came time to vote.

“As a result of the employer’s unlawful support and assistance,” Judge Soble, in September 2015, called for “setting aside the decertification election and dismissing the decertification petition. Given that the unlawful conduct tainted the entire decertification process, any election results would not sufficiently reflect the unrestrained free expression of the bargaining unit members.”

Thus, the UFW, voted in by Gerawan farmworkers in a runoff election in 1990, certified by the ALRB in 1992, never reached a contract to represent the farmworkers in wage negotiations with their employer, and did not collect dues from or provide services for the farmworkers, reportedly among the highest paid in the industry, effectively abandoned the Gerawan farmworkers. 

When the California State Legislature amended the Agricultural Labor Relations Act in 2002 and 2011 to allow and to accelerate the process for imposed mandatory mediation and conciliation for a union contract, UFW offered a new contract proposalafter having abandoned the Gerawan farmworkers from 1995 and 2012.

Despite a lower court’s rejection of the so-called mandatory mediation and conciliation provision, the ALRB appears to have been successful in forcing UFW representation and mandatory dues collection on current Gerawan employees, after 25 years of ineffective UFW involvement that encompassed about 18 years of no involvement whatsoever—and certainly without counting their votes.

Click here to read, “ALRB DISCHARGES FARMWORKER VOTE, PART 2 – EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH ATTORNEY RAIMONDO: LET THE PEOPLE VOTE!”

INTERVIEW WITH DAN GERAWAN

UFW and ALRB Want to Impose Contract on Gerawan Employees

“The UFW won an election to represent Gerawan workers 23 years ago; but then, after only one bargaining session, the union disappeared and hasn’t been heard from in 20 years,” Gerawan Farming said in a recent statement. “Last October, the union reappeared and is using decade-old legislation to now impose a contract on the employer and the employees without a vote.”
California Ag Today associate editor Laurie Greene interviewed Dan Gerawan this week on what he is going through regarding the UFW and ALRB. 
Greene: Please introduce your company’s products, # employees, etc.
Dan Gerawan: Gerawan Farming Inc., which grows and ships under the Prima label, is the world’s largest peach grower and employs about 3,000 workers. The company also farms table grapes, nectarines, and plums. We are a family-owned and operated company. Despite our size, I farm with my father, Ray, my brother, Mike, and my wife, Norma. We are very hands-on; this is what we do.
Greene: There are press reports that Gerawan is having a dispute with the UFW. What is that dispute?
Gerawan: We are not having a dispute with the UFW. Our employees are having a dispute. As a company, our dispute is with the state government that is trying to force a contract on us without giving the workers an opportunity to vote. People need to understand that this is not a normal union situation; it has to do with a law being used for something it was never meant for.
Greene: What is your stance on employees having a vote?
Gerawan: We believe the employees should have a vote, and they have made it known they want a vote. They are not saying how they will vote; they just want a vote. When they often express their opinions to us, we stop them and say, “Don’t tell us your preference; we support your right to vote, that’s enough. Everything else is your choice.”
Greene: Can you describe the chronology of your circumstances with the UFW and ALRB?
Gerawan: We lost an election with the UFW in 1990. We had our only bargaining session in 1995. There was never a contract, and the union failed to continue bargaining. The union disappeared; they abandoned our workers.
To this day, we don’t know why. They have told us, “We have no legal obligation to tell you.” We responded, “But you do have a moral obligation. How can you come back after 20 years and tell our workers that you want 3% of their money or you are going to fire them?”
The UFW wrote us a letter in October 2012 saying, “We’re ready to negotiate.” At the time, we couldn’t believe it since the employees didn’t even know they were represented by the union and had been working quite happily earning the industry’s highest wages. But then attorneys explained to us that the UFW would force us into a mandatory process where the state would actually impose the contract on us and our employees, and we would have no right to opt out.
So, the UFW pretended to negotiate for a while. After just eight brief bargaining sessions over a three-month period, during which the UFW never made an economic proposal, the UFW suddenly asked the government to step in to write and impose a contract us.
Greene: Can you explain the Mandatory Mediation Law?
Gerawan: In 2002, the state legislature passed an amendment to 1975’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act. That amendment allowed for mandatory mediation to be imposed in ag labor situations. However, ‘mediation’ is a misnomer; it is really mandatory arbitration. The legislature passed the law in response to a few employers, including one employer (not us) who supposedly dragged out negotiations for many years, 20 years in that particular case.
When the legislature passed that 2002 law, their thought was that that if an employee votes for a union, they are voting for a contract. However, in most industries, employees vote for representation and negotiation for a contract. This is not a normal situation where the union comes in to negotiate, with power, backing up the workers, and then the two parties negotiate a mutual agreement. This is the union invoking a law that allows the state to literally force a contract on the employer and employees.
Keep in mind that the law was meant to remedy dragged-out negotiations. There were no negotiations here to drag out; the union had disappeared. There is nothing in the legislative history that shows the law was to be used in these situations. The UFW’s and ALRB’s stance is basically, “The letter of the law… says if you failed to reach an ‘agreement,’ we can invoke this.” We responded, “That implies that you tried to reach an agreement. You guys never tried. You went away.” Their response, “Well the law doesn’t say we had to try, so we are using that law now to impose a contract.”
Greene: How do you respond to ALRB’s accusations of coercion and forgeries?
Gerawan:  The Company has done nothing to coerce any signatures. We do not know anything about forgeries. We don’t know how many there supposedly are. We don’t know who caused those forgeries, and by that I mean I don’t know if they are saying we caused them or the union caused them.
It doesn’t take any coercion for the highest paid employees in the industry to realize that it is wrong for a union to come back after a twenty-year absence and tell them they will take 3% of their pay or fire them—without a vote. Not even a vote to ratify any contract that might happen.
After hearing this for a few months and being harassed at their homes multiple times by UFW people, the employees, on their own, began a decertification effort. They started a petition and turned it in to the ALRB. Immediately, the UFW started filing unfair labor practice charges against us saying that we were coercing our employees. That is silly.
We did not coerce, and in fact we invited ALRB to go out to our fields to make sure the workers understood they have the right to vote however they want. The ALRB did that.
We also did that. My wife, Norma, and I met with all the employees and told them, “Do whatever you want, choose however you want to choose. But congratulations on having achieved that right through your petition. We are not asking how you will vote.”
Greene: Could the signatures have been forged after you submitted them?
Gerawan: I really don’t know. All I know is thousands of signatures apparently were delivered.
Keep in mind, the union does not want the employees to have a choice, and they are fighting hard to stop the employees from having a choice, especially when the adjudicating agency has shown overwhelming bias against the employer and the employees.
The ALRB’s role, under the Agriculture Labor Relations Act, is to protect employees’ rights as a whole and to cause peace in the fields (which we had before the UFW and ALRB came into the situation). So why is the ALRB stopping the employees from having their vote just because of a relatively few questionable signatures from an unknown source?
After all, this is merely a vote.
We need to keep in mind that this is a declining union that has been gone for twenty years, has done nothing for these workers, and has returned only to pick the pockets of the industry’s highest paid workers and not even allow them to have a vote. I think it is unconscionable that the ALRB has done nothing to stop it, but in fact has taken every opportunity to accommodate this travesty.
Greene: Gerawan Farming has claimed that the ruling by Silas Shawver, regional director of ALRB, failed to provide a count of signatures filed, the number needed for a vote, and the number judged invalid.
Gerawan: This is correct. The ALRB blocked the election citing forgeries and coercion. Mr. Shawver is refusing to give out any information.
My wife and I informed our employees that the ALRB regional director in Visalia canceled their vote because supposedly we and the management of our company coerced our workers’ signatures. Our employees told me flat out that the only coercion has come from UFW and ALRB themselves.”
To continue this interview, please press “more” below!  


Greene: What is behind the ALRB’s finding that Gerawan directly assisted the petitioner and others in the decertification effort?
Gerawan: We have not directly assisted the petitioner. So, what the ALRB is saying is not true. It is simply did not happen.  
When the employees turned in their petition, the ALRB did not announce an election. The employees got very upset and demonstrated at the ALRB office in Visalia to demand their right to vote.
ALRB did not respond, but subsequently cancelled the vote, citing forgeries and coercion. The regional director is refusing to give out any information.
So, on September 30,over 1,500 of our employees reacted by going on strike to protest the ALRB’s and UFW’s cancellation of the vote. We thought we’d be harvesting peaches and grapes that day, but we didn’t.
Greene: Did Gerawan support the stoppage?
Gerawan: Oh no, we did not support the stoppage. We support the workers’ right to choose. But we did not want to see work stopped because we had fruit to harvest that day. But because the workers did stop, the cost for us was significant.
Greene: In a statement you said, “It is unfortunate that our employees felt they needed to take such a drastic action to have their voices heard. We are still hopeful that [the board] will protect the workers’ right to choose.” Are employees grateful for your company’s advocacy or opposed?
Gerawan: The employees have told us that they are grateful that we support their right to choose. At no time have we ever expressed a preference to them one way or the other. We want them to choose.
Greene: What rights do the UFW and ALRB have?
Gerawan: The UFW itself doesn’t have much power because they have such a small membership and are declining, but they have been handed an inordinate amount of power by the legislature. With such power, the UFW no longer needs workers’ support. They no longer need to organize the way a normal union organizes. Their members are created by legislation, not a vote.
We are about to have a contract literally written for us by a state agency and imposed on us. No one signs anything. Neither we nor our employees can opt out.
This type of ag labor unrest hasn’t happened since the 60’s and 70’s, and back then it was completely the opposite of what’s happening now. Back then, the workers wanted union and government protections. Now, the workers are fighting to be free from union coercion and government imposition. It’s hard to believe that the very law that was created to protect farm worker rights is now being used to rob those workers of their rights.
Greene: Why do you think the UFW is targeting Gerawan Farms?
Gerawan: I think they are going after the old abandoned elections.
We have the highest paid employees in the table grapes and tree fruit industry. No one disputes that, not even the union.
By the way, the union has no contracts with table grapes or stone fruit farm employees, and they have not been able to secure any. The last contract they had was with a Hanford farmer, and after a few years, those workers voted to throw the union out.
Clearly we are the biggest target, especially for a union that now is barely 3,000 members. If they prevail against our employees, this would double their size. Overnight, the majority of UFW members will be co-opted members created by legislative fiat, not by worker choice. The UFW needs this badly because their expenses exceed their income, and this is all public knowledge.
Greene:  What is the employer mandated to do?
Gerawan: To live within the terms of the contract. There will be no other option. As an example of what the imposed contract will do, it will throw out our meritocracy, which has been an important part of our success, and replace it with seniority. That’s something we specifically told the ALRB arbitrator would harm us.
We made it clear to the ALRB, “Do not mess with that. We have been a shining example of success in creating high wages in an industry that has had a lot of failures. Don’t mess with our formula for success, please.” They completely ignored our plea.
Imagine any business having a contract written by the state and imposed on them–wages, working conditions and everything else. It’s hard to believe that it is actually happening, especially when we’re already paying the highest wages and benefits.
Greene:  Did they have to prove any wrongdoing to do this?
Gerawan: To invoke mandatory mediation there has to be an unfair labor practice. We were found guilty of an unfair labor practice in the 1990s after the election. I think it was for laying off a crew at the end of the season.
Now that the union has come back, we have more unfair labor practice allegations. For example, for the buses to Sacramento, that we had nothing to do with, we have an unfair labor practice charge against us. For the employee walk out, that we had nothing to do with and which cost us a huge amount of money, we have an unfair labor charge against us.
Who adjudicates them? The ALRB. A charge does not mean you are truly guilty of doing something; it only means that the union has accused you of something.
Greene: What are your other unfair labor practice charges?
Gerawan: There have been many. It seems to be part of the game. For example, last October, when the union came in, we felt compelled to let our employees know about this. With our lawyers’ review, we sent our employees a letter with the facts only, but we received an unfair labor practice charge just for that.
So, because the UFW suddenly decides to reappear after being gone twenty years, we can no longer communicate with our employees?
Once the union files an unfair labor practice charge, the ALRB investigates, which takes months. Then, they will often side with the union against the employer and file official changes, which will eventually be heard by an administrative law judge. It could be a year or more before the facts come out. Meanwhile, the ALRB and UFW use those charges to damage your reputation, even though there has been no proper discovery or hearing.
Plus, if the unfair labor charge is used to block an election, and the investigation takes months, then the available time window for the election will probably lapse, and the employees’ right to a vote will be taken away from them. The system actually seems designed for that to happen.
Greene: Is there a pattern of unfair labor practices against you?
Gerawan: They come in batches. We got seven a few days ago for the bus trip, the strike, for whatever they conjure up. The unfair labor practice charges are just one or two sentences. From the union standpoint, they fill out a form, and then ALRB does the rest. ALRB sends their team of investigators out to “prove or disprove the unfair labor practice,” but I do not think they want to disprove anything. The ALRB has shown a clear pattern of wanting to rob our employees of their right to choose.
Greene: Gerawan is well known in taking good care of their employees. With this in mind, what could the UFW offer that is missing?
Gerawan: First of all, wage-wise, we are far above the rest of the industry. In fact, many in the industry have told me that they cannot believe that this is happening to the company that pays the highest wages and offers the best working conditions.
So what could the UFW possibly offer? Whatever it is that the state feels it can force the grower to pay whether or not it makes sense or is viable for the business. Again, this is not a normal situation where union organizers represent workers at the bargaining table.
Greene: What is it like for your employees?
Gerawan: The employees have told me that they cannot believe this is happening to them. They say they left Mexico because of things like this. They said, “You wait Dan, we’re going to have a vote.” I said, guys, I hope you do, but you may not have the chance. The employees said, “What do you mean? This is America! When the state hears that all we want is to vote, then they will understand.”
I had to tell them that I was sorry that this it is such a tragedy. We all assume that we will have the simple basic right to vote, but apparently that’s not how it is anymore.
Greene: You have met with Sylvia Torres-Guillén, the general counsel with the California ALRB. How did your conversation go with her?
Gerawan: Yes, my wife and I met her during one of our hearings. She was very cordial. We both had just heard my attorney tell the Judge that ALRB was so biased that it would never let our workers have a vote. We told her that we hoped that she would prove my attorney wrong because our employees need her help to protect their right to vote.
She said she would let them vote if… at which point I politely interrupted and pleaded to her that it was her responsibility to get rid of the “if,” and to make sure the rights of the workers were protected so that peace would be restored to our fields.