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

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.

BACKGROUND

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.

California Gerawan farm workers harvesting tree fruit
California farm workers harvesting tree fruit

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 processthe 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.”

William Gould, IV, former ALRB chair
William Gould, IV, former ALRB chair

“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.”

Tree fruit farm worker in California.
Tree fruit farm worker in California.

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

Isadore Hall III UFW flag ALRB
Isadore Hall III with UFW flag prior to his appointment to the ALRB.

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.”

Next Steps

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.

Who Safeguards CA Farm Workers’ Rights? Part 5


Resources

Farmers Deserve a Balanced Ag Labor Board,” by George Radanovich, Joel Nelsen, and Tom Nassif, Sacramento Bee, February 23, 2017.

Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation


 

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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

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Farm Workers Fearful for Future

Americans not interested in farm worker jobs, Western Growers Association says

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

Jason Resnick
Jason Resnick

The noble farm workers moving though California orchards and vineyards – where they are pruning trees and tying vines, along with other winter work – are fearful that they could be deported.

“They are scared because there has been a lot of the rhetoric in the news out there that’s come from the presidential campaign,” said Jason Resnick, Vice President and general counsel for the Western Growers Association, based in Irvine. “It has certainly raised concerns for workers. However, we are confident that the President-elect understands the needs of agriculture, the importance of agriculture and that we rely on these workers to harvest the crops that feed the country and the world.”

“For the last decade agricultural leaders through all segments of the ag industry have been leaning hard on Congress for an immigration reform package that will do two things: One that will help us to maintain our existing workforce and to normalize their status,” Resnick said. “And two, we need lawmakers to streamline the future flow of workers who want to come here for the season and do the work and return back to their home country. It’s really a two-prong approach that we are looking for.”

And there has been additional rhetoric, along with letters to editors in major newspapers across the country. Many uninformed people are saying that farm workers should not be here because they are taking away American jobs.

“We’ve known for years and it’s been tested and proven again and again that Americans won’t pick crops at any wage,” Resnick said.  “As part of the H2A temporary agricultural program that allows agricultural employee who are facing a shortage of domestic workers to bring foreign workers to the U.S. to perform ag work services on a seasonal basis, we have advertised for American workers in multiple states.”

“We are seeking American workers to do the work at considerable higher wages than minimum wage,” he said. “And we do not get many Americans applying at all. And when we do, they come to work and they barely last a day, let alone the season.”

“People in this country would do almost anything rather than farm work,” Resnick said.

 

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California Proudly Provides Most of Thanksgiving Feast to America

Enjoy Your Thanksgiving Feast

From California’s Farms to Your Table

 

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

Turkeys come from several areas of the state, and while California is ranked No. 7 in turkey production, we do supply most of the western United States.

The famous Mrs. Cubbison’s dressing comes from Sophie Cubbison, a California entrepreneur who was born in 1890 in the San Marcos area of San Diego County. A longer fascinating story made short: In May 1920, she graduated from California Polytechnical University with a degree in Home Economics. In 1948, she added seasoning to broken pieces of the popular Melba toast to make stuffing. A factory in Commerce, California churns it out this time of year.

Farmers and farmworkers in California produce almonds, raisins, walnuts, prunes, pistachios, figs and dates, apricots, pumpkins, pecans and pomegranates. . . right on up the food line.

These are all part of the American Thanksgiving feast.

Celery from the Oxnard and Ventura area, and the rest of the ingredients for the stuffing mix, plus carrots, lots of crisp lettuce and fresh spinach from Salinas — all these greens waiting for you, already washed and bagged in the produce department. The green beans in your casserole come from California growers.

You’ve got oranges and kiwi fruit, table grapes, strawberries, raspberries freshly harvested from the Salinas and the San Joaquin Valleys. You’ve got sweet potatoes from Merced County — this is their pinnacle season. You’ve got all kinds, colors and sizes of potatoes and tomatoes, plus parsley, onions and garlic. . .  all grown in California.

Practically all the fruits, vegetables and nuts make America’s Thanksgiving celebrations festive, and nearly all of them come from California.

And don’t forget about the great variety of California winegrapes cultivated by California growers and then crafted with great care into great California vintage.

Wait! We grow firm, juicy apples and those small round watermelons that are a great snack or accent to a flavorful dessert fruit salad. And besides poultry, we even have California lamb, beef, rice or pasta—if you want to go that way.

Of course, you’ve got Martinelli’s sparkling apple or grape cider from Watsonville, near the Monterey Bay area. Local growers provide the tree-ripened fruit to the award-winning company, which is still family-owned and is run by the founder’s grandson and great-grandson.

At more than 140 years old, Martinelli’s is merely one century younger than our nation. In fact, the company received a first place award at the California State Fair in 1890.

By the way, do you know that little pop-up turkey timer that indicates when the turkey has reached the correct internal temperature? Food public relations genius Leo Pearlstein¹, along with a turkey producer from Turlock, invented that gizmo. Pearlstein, who handled the promotions for the California Turkey Advisory Board, was contemplating the enduring Thanksgiving conundrum—how long to cook the turkey and how to figure out when it is done?

Pearlstein said he and the turkey rancher were sitting in Pearlstein’s test kitchen mulling over ways consumers could determine when the turkey was done. They noticed the fire sprinkler system overhead. When the kitchen gets too hot, the fire sprinkler turns on. A metal alloy in the sprinkler is activated or melted when subjected to the high temperature of a fire in the room (185 degrees Fahrenheit). They applied that concept to the pop-up timer.

Officially, the National Turkey Federation advises consumers also use a conventional meat thermometer to verify that the cooked turkey’s internal temperature reaches:

165 degrees F to 170 degrees F in the breast or
175 degrees F to 180 degrees F in the thigh and
165 degrees F in the center of the stuffing
.

Except for cranberries, it is really a California Thanksgiving.


¹Leo Pearlstein is founder and president of Lee & Associates, Inc., a full-service public relations and advertising firm, which he opened in 1950. According to the company website, he currently runs the company with his partners, two of his sons, Howard and Frank Pearlstein. He is also founder and director of Western Research Kitchens, the food and beverage division of his agencyHe is considered a pioneer food consultant and his agency was recently named as one of the top agencies in the country that specializes in food and beverage clients.

For more food safety guidelines, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) provides this portal.

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Raisins: Quality Is Up, Tonnage Is Down

Fewer but Sweeter Raisins this Year 

 

By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster

 

After last year’s tremendously successful raisin harvest, Steve Spate a fourth generation farmer, said it is understandable to see a bit of a decline in tonnage this year. Spate, who is also grower representative for the Raisin Bargaining Association (RBA), which has been representing the raisin industry for nearly 50 years, said, “Just by nature, the year following a high crop year could potentially be down—especially for Thompson Seedless Grapes,” noted Spate.

Steve Spate, grower representative, Raisin Bargaining Association (RBA)
Steve Spate, grower representative, Raisin Bargaining Association (RBA)

Raisin grape harvest in the central San Joaquin Valley is a two-month process for growers, typically running from late August to mid-to-late October, depending on crop maturity. Hard numbers on this year’s overall crop won’t be available for a few more months, but growers are reporting a significant decline from last year’s harvest. “Last year was a large crop,” said Spate,” so definitely we were considering that this year would be down—but not as severely as some growers have reported. We have people reporting differences in yield from 10% to as high as almost 50%.”

There are various possible reasons for this year’s drop in yield, aside from the cyclical nature of grapevines. “I think drought conditions last year may have played a big role, while the buds were setting basically for this year,” said Spate. He also suggested water was a significant factor this year as well, particularly if growers lacked enough surface water deliveries or a grower had a pump issue and there was a critical time where he or she didn’t get water on the field.

The overall reduction in acreage of this year’s harvest is yet another factor to consider. Industry experts report approximately 10K to 15K fewer raisin grape acres compared to last year. This shrinkage is attributed to growers replacing raisin crops with higher-value crops such as almonds.

Sun-Dried Raisins
Sun-Dried Raisins

As many industries struggled with the cost and availability of labor, Spate commented that it wasn’t too difficult to fill their labor needs this year. “Going into the year growers made different decisions and chose more mechanized harvests. The handpicking crews were much larger and seemed to be readily available,” Spate said.

While grape growers were thankful for the amount of available labor this year, they have some serious concerns regarding the cost of labor in the next few years. Between a minimum wage that will incrementally climb to $15 an hour in a couple of years and the newly established shorter workday for farmworkers [before reaching the overtime threshold of 8 hours, as opposed to 10 hours], growers consider the investment in mechanization as being more cost effective in the long run.

“I think we will continue to see shifts towards any type of mechanization possible due to some of those minimum wage [increases].” Before the governor signed the overtime bill, Spate said, “We used to have the ability to have workers work longer hours before overtime kicked in.”

Raisin grape growers will still be harvesting for the next few weeks. Although it appears overall tonnage is down a bit, sugar levels seem to be higher than last year, resulting in better quality raisins.

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Clinton’s Backdoor UFW Endorsement Deal Trumps Farmworkers’ Rights

Assemblyman Patterson Comments on Clinton’s UFW Endorsement vs. Farmworkers’ Rights

 

By Laurie Greene, Editor

 

As reported in, “Leaked Clinton emails include pledge to help UFW in fight with Gerawan Farming,” published by the Fresno Bee last Friday, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, traded support for the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) endorsement and then conspired to undermine Fresno County-based Gerawan Farming and its farmworkers’ rights.

Jim Patterson
Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno)


Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) has been supportive of the constitutional rights of farmworkers at Gerawan Farming whose votes cast in a sanctioned 2013 election to decertify UFW representation have never been counted. Under the jurisdiction of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB), the ballots were collected, sealed, and locked away. To date, election results and the location of the ballots are unknown.

 

In an exclusive interview, Assemblyman Patterson stated:

I think it’s the height of hypocrisy when a candidate for president of the United States goes behind closed doors and makes a backroom deal with an institution that is trying to deny the very privilege of having a free election to decide whether or not [farmworkers] want to be a part of the UFW.

Not supporting or recognizing the Gerawan workers’ right to an election to determine their own future—how they wish to organize, how they wish to value their labor and how they wish to conduct the relationship with their employer through elections—is to me, a slap in the face of the electoral process, of the fundamental constitutional right of everyone to be able to vote and to have a say in their labor and in their future.

alrb_ufw_fwr_logo_frIt also demonstrates just how deep and wide this intertwining web of deceitfulness really is. Of all things, for the democratic nominee for President of the United States to make a deal over something that is happening in Central California, with 3,000 workers who decided that they wanted to have elections?”

After the election, the ALRB took and hid the ballots. The ballots were never counted. Election results were never announced. The election was not the expression of individual farmworkers exercising their right to vote, but considered [by the ALRB] an unfair labor practice.

 [The Democratic nominee] decided to make a deal with the UFW over this. It tells me in no uncertain terms that the revolution that is happening with Silvia Lopez and the Gerawan workers—the independence, the thinking for themselves, the willingness to chart their own course with their employer—is frightening the UFW and the ALRB to its foundations.

To the degree that [the UFW] would literally go into a back room and get a pledge from the democratic nominee. . . Notwithstanding the facts—information about the election, the efforts of the ALRB and UFW to suppress [decertification] elections, and their choices for making decisions themselves. . . but to just simply decide to go low . . . and in this instance, go so low that she would be making a deal to abridgedestroythe fundamental right of an election. That is just unconscionable.

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Food Tank’s Farm Tank Summit in Sacramento Reveals Knowledge Gap

Food Tank’s 1st Annual Farm Tank Summit in Sacramento Reveals Gap in Agricultural Knowledge

Good Starting Point for Constructive Conversation

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

Several hundred food activists attended the First Annual Farm Tank Summit in Sacramento last week, hosted by Food Tank, in partnership with the Visit SacramentoCalifornia Farm-to-Fork Program, and University of California, DavisDanielle Nierenberg, co-founder and president of Food Tank noted having the event in Sacramento enabled West Coast agricultural experts to contribute to the discussion.

“We were really excited to feature California agriculture, because it’s such a huge part of the American economy,” said Nierenberg. “Californians are feeding the world, and we need to really highlight what these amazing producers are doing. When the Farm to Fork program of the Visitors Bureau reached out to us, we were thrilled to partner with such an amazing group of people, as well as UC Davis folks and the Center for Land-Based Learning,” she said.

Food Tank, an abbreviation of Food Think Tank, is a 501(c)3 non profit organization focused on building a global community for safe, healthy, nourished eaters that values education, inspiration and change.

According to their website:

Food Tank is for the 7 billion people who have to eat every day. We will offer solutions and environmentally sustainable ways of alleviating hunger, obesity, and poverty by creating a network of connections and information for all of us to consume and share. Food Tank is for farmers and producers, policy makers and government leaders, researchers and scientists, academics and journalists, and the funding and donor communities to collaborate on providing sustainable solutions for our most pressing environmental and social problems.

The organization begins with the premise, “Our food system is broken. Some people don’t have enough food, while others are eating too much. There’s only one way to fix this problem—and it starts with you and me.”

Food Tank, Farm Tank SummitWith the goal of feeding the hungry world of nine billion people in a few years, “Food Tank highlights hope and success in agriculture. We feature innovative ideas that are already working on the ground, in cities, in kitchens, in fields and in laboratories. These innovations need more attention, more research, and ultimately more funding to be replicated and scaled-up. And that is where we need you. We all need to work together to find solutions that nourish ourselves and protect the planet.”

Nierenberg clarified, “I don’t necessarily think we need to scale up food production; I think we need to scale out different innovations that are working. We’re wasting about 1.3 billion tons of food annually. That’s enough to feed everyone who’s hungry today, so we don’t necessarily need to ramp up production. We need to have better distribution, and processing practices that can help get food to people who need it the most,” she said.

“We need the political will behind those things,” she continued, “to build the infrastructure necessary for farmers to have better processing facilities, to have better storage facilities, to have better roads—if we’re talking about the developing world. I don’t necessarily think that we need to invest in producing more calories; we need better calories. We need more nutrient-dense food, and we need less starchy staple crops,” she noted.


Editor’s Note: Activists overtook the stage during the event, and the conversation was notably challenging for panelists. In an effort to Cultivate Common Ground to link consumers with the farmers who grow their nutritious food—and vice versa—California Ag Today has chosen to share some interesting statements from presenters and attendees to illustrate, perhaps, where the discussion could begin:

Regarding farms and processing facilities, big is bad, and small is good.

Regarding food quality, organic produce is healthy and safe, while conventional produce is unsafe and full of pesticides.

One of many moderators from the Bay Area, Twilight Greenaway, managing editor of Civil Eats mistakenly introduced Oscar Villegas, Yolo County Supervisor, District 1, as being from Sacramento County. When Villegas corrected her, Greenaway said, “I’m showing my Central Valley and Bay Area eliteness.”

Eric Holt-Giménez, executive director of Food First, noted that farmworkers are invisible in California agriculture. “There is racism in the fields. We need more worker unions and we need farmworkers to be paid much more than they are now and the farmworkers should be getting pensions from the farmer.”

Michael Dimock, president, Roots of Change, said to the audience, “You guys are doing a great job. Keep doing it. Keep working with your NGOs. They know policy. In turn, they can work with the legislators.”

“You need to be in the capital, pursuading the legislatures to support their bills. They want to be reelected, and if they don’t do what we ask them to do, they are scared.”

“In the meantime, we have to be nice to farmers because farmers are scared. We are putting a lot of pressure on them; They are in a vice. Our movement has supported bills AB 1066 – the overtime bill, minimum wage increases, organic farming legislation,  and workers’ rights.”

Kerryn Gerety, founder and CEO, Lazoka, referred to John Purcell, vegetables global R&D Lead, Hawaii business lead, vice president and distinguished fellow, Monsanto Company, and said, “There is an elephant in the room, the Monsanto rep. Monsanto has all the technology patents. We all want transparency and we need you to be more transparent.”

Continuing, “Why doesn’t Monsanto open-source some of your patents and release the intellectual property so others can take advantage of your teçhnology?”

Purcell answered, “We are an Ag company. Why would our company invest a million dollars on technology and let everyone have it? It is our investment and we need to have the opportunity for a return on that investment.

During a panel discussion of food companies including Blue Apron, Almond Board of California, and Bayer CropScience, that covered organics, Jennifer Maloney, food chain sustainability manager, Bayer CropScience, said, “We do support  the organic industry, because we have biological products that work in organic as well as conventional [farming].”

Maloney also talked about agricultural Integrated Pest Management (IPM) technology such as smart sprayers that spray only targeted areas.

Matt Wadiak, founder & COO, Blue Apron, responded, “It’s not about smart sprayers; it’s about biological systems in the field and trying to lean on them instead of spraying.”

Maloney replied, “Yes, that is exactly what IPM is.”

Keith Knopf, COO, Raley’s Family of Fine Stores, commented on the organic question, “the way we see organic versus inorganic—that is not the discussion for us. What’s more important to us is, is it the candy bar or the apple?”


This two-day event featured more than 35 speakers from the food and agriculture field, interactive panels moderated by top food journalists, networking, and delicious food, followed by a day of hands-on activities and opportunities for attendees. This was the second in a series of three 2016 Summits, following the Washington, D.C. Food Tank Summit that completely sold out and drew in more than 30,100 livestream viewers. The third Summit will be held in Chicago on November 16, 2016.

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Governor Signs AB 1066 Overtime Bill for Farmworkers

Governor Signs AB 1066 With Good Intentions

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

 

TODAY, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1066, the overtime bill for farmworkers, despite pushback from agricultural groups and farmworkers in the state. Ian LeMay, director of member relations & communications of the Fresno-based California Fresh Fruit Association, anticipates that not only will farmers in the state lose, but farmworkers, exports, and possibly consumers will lose as well. 

For years, California farm employees accrued overtime pay only after working a 10-hour day, instead of an 8-hour day, like most other employees in California. AB 1066 changes the overtime rules for farmworkers by gradually lowering overtime thresholds in steps over the next four years so farmworkers will eventually earn overtime after an 8-hour day.

The California farm industry has appreciated the prior overtime policy, according to LeMay, because agriculture is not a typical 52-week type of job. The workload of farming ebbs and flows with the seasons, weather, cultural practices and tasks.Farmworkers

For instance, harvesting of crops such as strawberries, citrus and table grapes, normally occurs during short 2- to 3-week periods in the state and is accompanied by an increase in demand for labor. As one might expect, the need for labor declines during non-harvest and non-planting phases, to the extent that farmworkers may endure periods of no work, and hence, no pay. So farmworkers have appreciated the opportunity to work extra hours and earn overtime during busier phases.

Labor costs for California growers of all fresh fruit, avocados and many vegetable crops will be most affected by this change. “This is going to have a very, very big impact on crops that require a high degree of labor like our stone fruit, table grapes and the rest,” said LeMay, “It’s definitely going to change the way our members have to approach doing business,” he said.

“When you compare it to the other states in the union that we are going to have to compete with,” LeMay elaborated, “when you take into account recent changes in minimum wage, piece-rate compensation, increasing farm regulations and now overtime, it’s going to be very difficult to compete not only in a domestic market, but also internationally. That’s the disappointing part about this.”

LeMay also explained that over the last 40 years, the California legislature has crafted labor law to create the highest worker standards in the U.S. “California was the only state in the union that had a daily threshold for overtime of [only] 10 hours per day, and we were one of four in the union that had a weekly threshold for overtime of [only] 60 hours. So in terms of ag overtime, California was already the gold standard.”

And, although lawmakers intended AB 1066 to help farmworkers, LeMay noted, “ultimately, the measure will impact farmworkers the most because farmers in the number one Ag state will find a way to keep its bottom line from eroding any further.

“California farmers will need to solve the puzzle of how to achieve the same amount of work in fewer hours per day,” said LeMay. “They will consider hiring double crews, increasing mechanization in packing facilities, orchards and vineyards, and reducing farm acreage to match their workforce. Or, for those commodities that require increased labor, you could see a transition to commodities like nut crops that use less labor.”

LeMay explained that during down periods on the farm, farmworkers generally collect unemployment, which is based on gross annual income. Now, by giving the farmer an incentive to reduce worker hours, farmworkers’ unemployment compensation may decrease as well.

Furthermore, for the consumer who desires fresh local food from small farms, the phase-in schedule AB 1066 provides to smaller companies is actually a competitive disadvantage. “While AB 1066 allows small farmers—those with fewer than 25 employeesmore time to phase in changes,” LeMay asked, “why would a farmworker stay at small farm under the prolonged 60-hour per week overtime threshold rule, when he or she could work at a larger farm under the phased-in 40-hour per week threshold?”

ab-1066-provisions

 

Are consumers willing to pay for increased labor costs on the farm? “As the saying goes,” LeMay quipped, “generally farmers aren’t price makers, they are price takers. Consumers are usually unwilling to pay extra for their produce, so farmers usually have to absorb increased costs.”

“Economically,” LeMay summarized, “the legislature has taken us from high labor standards to economically disadvantaging farmers and farmworkers. Lawmakers are not paying enough attention to keeping California companies viable, sustainable and successful.”

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WGA Conflicted on SCOTUS DACA Decision

Western Growers Association has Mixed Feelings on Recent Supreme Court DACA Decision

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

The 4-4 ruling on immigration reform last month by the Supreme Court of the United State’s (SCOTUS) affirmed the lower court’s injunction against President Obama’s executive order, which would have granted deportation deferrals and temporary legal work status to about five million undocumented immigrants. Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers Association (WGA), has been vocal about the need to establish some type of immigration reform.

Nassif compared the recent SCOTUS ruling to what happened when a 2013 U.S. Senate-endorsed bill that supported a pathway to citizenship was never passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. “The House did not want a pathway to citizenship,” said Nassif. “They were not even sure if they wanted a pathway to legalization. Most Republicans did not even want a border security bill in the House coming to the floor for a vote because they didn’t want any immigration reform—whatsoever.”

Western Growers logoNassif said, “The House was part of that Send-them-home! crowd that considered anything you did—even if it was putting them on probation—as amnesty. It is interesting that with the House doing nothing about immigration, what we have today is amnesty, because we’re not doing anything about it.”

Nassif expressed mixed feelings about the SCOTUS decision. “In a way, it disappointed us; in a way, it didn’t. It didn’t disappoint us because there was no requirement that people working in agriculture who might qualify for this Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) would actually remain working in agriculture.”

To get a pathway under the Senate bill, farmworkers would have to stay in agriculture for a certain number of years, but they could eventually work in other industries. So if you have a choice of working in any industry, why would you go to work on the farm? But, in this instance, you would adversely affect other American jobs,” said Nassif.

Nassif said the motivation of the Obama administration is understandable due to the inability of Congress to compromise on immigration reform, yet Nassif maintains the Immigration Reform should not be done with Executive Orders as the President has done. Instead, Nassif stressed that Congress should take up Immigration Reform and pass it.

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