Who Safeguards Farm Worker Rights? – Part 8

Pick Justice, Gerawan Farm Workers Protest Forced Unionization

By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor

Jesse Rojas, spokesperson for Pick Justice, a farm worker rights group (not a union) organized a rally of farm workers last week at the California Supreme Court building in San Francisco to bring attention to the court hearing on the UFW’s effort to force unionization on farm workers at Gerawan Farming, Inc.—despite having abandoned the workers for nearly 20 years. Over 150 Gerawan workers traveled from the Central Valley to protest the UFW/ALRB team that is pushing for forced unionization of these farm workers via the justice system through Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation (MMC).

Jesse Rojas, spokesperson for Pick Justice (PickJustice.com)

Gerawan workers, dressed in blue Pick Justice t-shirts and armed with company ID cards and pay stubs to demonstrate authenticity, chanted at the UFW protesters who wore red UFW t-shirts. Rojas said the UFW individuals were apparently not Gerawan farm workers and were paid to be there. “All attending [in our group] are employees of Gerawan Farming,” he stated.

“I wish all 3,000 Gerawan workers could have come today like they’ve done in the past,” Rojas said. “But they actually have to work because they are real workers and they don’t get paid to come here. They miss days of work. A lot of them are going to get written up. They are going to get into trouble. They have had to find babysitters to take care of their kids; they are real workers.”

Rojas explained the focus of the demonstration is the need for these employees to choose their own future. “At this point, what is really important for them—not just them, but for all farm workers in the state—is simply to have the freedom to choosefreedom to vote.”

“Why would they have to be forced into a contract without reading it, without negotiating it, without approving it?” Rojas asked. “It’s not the American way. That’s not a democracy. The most fundamental civil right that all employees have is the right to vote if they want a union or not or if they want a contract or not.”

“But they are not getting those rights. Why not them? It is their right to vote and have their votes counted,” Rojas said.

If the Court imposes mandatory mediation, Rojas said the outcome “would affect about every farm worker in the state, almost 800,000 of them. The rights of the workers would be taken away.”

“The way mandatory mediation and conciliation works is the ALRB, the state government, has the right to write and impose a contract on employees without their approval,” Rojas explained. “In the Gerawan case, they will not have the right to strike or protest like they are doing today.”

“On top of that, this so-called contract will actually lower their take-home pay,” said Rojas, because mandatory UFW union dues totaling three percent of their paychecks would be imposed on the workers. If any of them refuse to pay the union as a condition of employment, they will be fired.

The justices of the California Supreme Court have until December 5th to make a ruling.

To see a video of Jesse Rojas speaking to California Ag Today, click here.


PickJustice.com celebrates freedom of choice for farm workers. As posted on their website:

We are concerned citizens who support the rights of workers to choose whether or not they want to have a union represent them. We are standing up for workers who are victimized by a politicized government agency.

Freedom of choice is a human right. People who are not educated are deprived of their freedom by those who are educated.

PickJustice.com exists to educate the public about the corrupt relationship between a once-noble union and the dishonest attorneys at the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB). We want to help social change to show that, once a union has violated the trust of those it purports to represent, that union no longer votes for the workers.

As César Chávez himself said, “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”

A generation ago, many farm workers were afraid of their employers. That isn’t the case anymore.

Thanks to organization against social injustice and a greater consciousness of producers and consumers alike, the plight of thousands of farm workers in America is over.

In César’s words more than three decades ago: “The very fact of our existence forces an entire industry – unionized and non-unionized – to spend millions of dollars year after year on improved wages, on improved working conditions, on benefits for workers.”

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Who Safeguards CA Farm Workers’ Rights? # 7 – CA Supreme Court

CA Supreme Court Hears Case of Gerawan Farming, Inc. vs. UFW/ ALRB

 

By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor

 

Gerawan Farm Workers Show Company IDs and Paystubs (Identification has been blurred out for privacy reasons.)

A significant labor hearing occurred at the California Supreme Court (Court) in San Francisco yesterday, the day after Labor Day, between the team of the United Farm Workers (UFW) and the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB or Board) versus Fresno County-based Gerawan Farming, Inc. over self-determination. At stake is the right of farm workers to determine if they want to be represented by the union or not. Under scrutiny is the Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation (MMC) provision of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act that paves the road for the UFW to force unionization on all farm workers.

 

Anthony Raimondo, of Fresno-based Raimondo & Associates, lawyer for Gerawan farm worker spokesperson, Silvia Lopez

“Although Gerawan farm workers attempted to participate in this hearing, as well as other hearings, they were denied legal participation in the trial by the state of California and by the UFW,” according to Anthony Raimondo, of Fresno-based Raimondo & Associates and lawyer for Gerawan farm worker spokesperson, Silvia Lopez. Nevertheless, hundreds of Gerawan employees in blue t-shirts attended the proceedings and protested outside the courthouse, lending their voices, exercising their free speech and showing their legitimate Gerawan company ID cards and payroll stubs.

 

Dan Gerawan, who co-owns Gerawan Farming, Inc., with his brother Mike and father Ray, commented on the court hearing just after it ended. “It is frightening to see the deference that the Court gives to the ALRB. Everyone in our industry and all farm workers should be scared by the deference this Court gives to a Board that is clearly not interested in the employees’ best interests.” Describing his perceptions in the courtroom, Gerawan said, “It was Orwellian to hear the government attorneys argue that they are defending self-determination, when in fact, what they are doing is the exact opposite.”

 

“That said,” he continued, “I am encouraged by the questions I heard from the Court. They obviously are taking this very seriously, and I’m hopeful that they will side with our employees and us.”

 

Silvia Lopez, Gerawan farm worker spokesperson

Members of the UFW were also present at the Court in red t-shirts, though only one person claimed to be a Gerawan employee. Marc Grossman, spokesperson for the United Farm Workers of America and communications director of the Cesar Chavez Foundation, said that the Gerawan operation should be unionized because the UFW was elected in 1990 by Gerawan farm workers and certified in 1992 by the ALRB.

 

However, the UFW did not successfully reach a contract for the Gerawan farm workers, and therefore did not collect dues. Furthermore, the UFW abandoned the Gerawan farm workers for nearly 20 years.

 

Grossman said the Court discussed today the long-standing principle that a union is certified until it is decertified. Workers have a right to decertify the union but it has to be the workers—not the company. It is patently illegal for an employer to have anything to do with determining union representation by his or her employees.

Marc Grossman, spokesperson for the United Farm Workers of America

 

When asked to account for UFW abandonment of Gerawan farm workers, Grossman said, “Bogus issue! The UFW never abandoned the workers at Gerawan. It repeatedly attempted to negotiate with Gerawan. At every step, it was met with virulent resistance by the company. It became apparent that only a law that would allow neutral state mediators to be brought in to hammer out a union agreement when the grower refused to do so would be the only course, and we followed it.”

 

Grossman asked us to read the September 5 ‘News from UFW’ press release he provided, entitled, “Giant grower challenging law giving farm workers the union contracts they voted for already owes its workers $10 million under a state-imposed union contract.”  Here are excerpts:

 

What about Gerawan’s claim the union “abandoned” the workers for 20 years?

Even before the Mandatory Mediation statute was adopted in 2002, the ALRB and the courts consistently rejected employer claims that unions should not be deemed workers’ bargaining representatives if they allegedly “abandoned” them. It is long-established law that a union remains certified as bargaining representative until workers—and only workers—vote to decertify it. At the time of the law’s passage in 2002, Gerawan was one of the 243 companies where farm workers voted for the UFW but the companies never agreed to contracts. (See UFW-Gerawan chronology)

1995-2002: Gerawan workers and the UFW continued working to improve conditions while the ALRB stopped enforcing the farm labor law under Republican political appointees.

2002: The Mandatory Media law was enacted. The agricultural industry mounted a major constitutional challenge.

2006: The Third District Court of Appeals in Sacramento upheld the Mandatory Mediation law. The industry appealed to the state Supreme Court, which refused to take the case. The industry declined an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court—and the law’s constitutionality was settled.

2012: The UFW sent a new negotiations request to Gerawan. At least 10 bargaining sessions failed to produce a union contract.

March 2013: The UFW requested mandatory mediation at Gerawan with the ALRB.

 

The above chronology vaguely refers to UFW involvement between 1995 and 2002 that remains unsubstantiated. UFW contact with Gerawan farm workers appears to have been reestablished in 2012.

Dan Gerawan, co-owner Gerawan Farming, Inc.
Dan Gerawan, co-owner Gerawan Farming, Inc.

The ALRB did supervise a sanctioned election for Gerawan farm workers to decertify the UFW on November 5, 2013; however, the ballots were collected, sealed and never counted.

When told that UFW representative Grossman said they never walked away, Gerawan asked, “If they didn’t abandon, then where were they for almost two decades? They did not phone us or send us a fax. They did not show up on our property. They did not inquire on behalf any of our employees. They did not file an unfair labor practice. They did nothing during that time. They abandoned our employees.”

Ron Barsamian, attorney for Gerawan Farming, Inc.

 

One of Gerawan’s attorneys, Ron Barsamian, managing shareholder of Fresno-based Barsamian & Moody, stated, “I’m very encouraged. I think the Justices’ questions indicated that they understood the issue we were raising. I think they certainly read the briefs. I think they understand the difficulty in how locked-in workers, such as the [Gerawan] ones behind us, can be under the way this law works: if you have an MMC contract, [the workers] never have an opportunity to decertify the union. Even the questions asked by the justices that we expected to be against us were great, and I certainly loved the answers that Mr. Schwartz gave.”

David Schwarz, attorney for Gerawan Farming, Inc.

 

Barsamian was referring to another Gerawan attorney, David Schwarz, from the law firm, Irell & Manella, who addressed the central issues of the case: “I think it was a full and fair hearing. I think the Court—all members—are deeply concerned about the unaccounted for two-decade [UFW] absence, an unaccountable power given to a mediator [ALRB], and uncheckable power given to the union [UFW] to compel one grower and one group of employees into this process. Ultimately, I think the justices were very much focused on and troubled by the inability of the [ALRB] agency to step in in a situation of gross abandonment where a contract is being imposed by that agency.”

 

The California Supreme Court typically releases it decisions and commentaries after 90 days.

Protesting are Gerawan farm workers (in blue) and UFW members (in red)
Protesting are Gerawan farm workers (in blue) and UFW members (in red)

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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.”

 

 

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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.

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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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.

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.”

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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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Court Awards Right to Choose to Gerawan Farming and its Farmworkers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are excepts from the Court Decision:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CA FARM WORKERS TO HOLD ELECTION NIGHT VIGIL TO PROTEST LABOR BOARD VOTER SUPPRESSION

Let’s All Show Support for These Valiant Farm Workers, Who are Striving to Get their VOICES Heard

 

By: Laurie Greene; Cal Ag Today Editor/Reporter

Hundreds of farm workers will gather outside a California election office on election night to protest a state labor board suppressing their votes from a union decertification election.  The workers, from Fresno-based grape and fruit grower, Gerawan Farming Inc., voted to decertify the United Farm Workers (UFW) last November, but the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) locked up the ballots and is refusing to count them.

“It’s an outrageous attempt to help the UFW impose a contract on these workers that will take 3 percent of their pay against their will,” said Center for Worker Freedom executive director Matt Patterson.

So on Tuesday November 4, Gerawan workers, their families and supporters will hold a silent candlelight vigil at an elections office at 2221 Kern Street in Fresno, CA from 8:00 pm-9:30 pm.    The silence will represent their voices being stolen by the ALRB; the candles will represent their hope for freedom from the UFW.

“Everyone’s vote will be counted that night.  We want to remind people that we are still waiting for ours to be counted a year after our election” says Areli Sanchez, one of the thousands of workers denied their constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and assembly by the ALRB. “We have been screaming for Governor Brown to help us for a year.  Maybe now he will hear our silence,” said Sanchez, a 14-year Gerawan employee.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council publicly supported a group of Gerawan farm workers seeking the union contract, as Gerawan sells its produce in Los Angeles stores under the Prima label.

In a letter to the LA Times editor on October 27, 2014, Kenneth Cleveland, Malibu, a management consultant who has worked with Gerawan Farming on and off for almost 30 years, said:

 

 

I know [Gerawan’s] operations well, and I know many of the company’s employees. The Gerawans are an immigrant family from Lebanon who many years ago started by farming several acres of peaches in Reedley, Calif. Today they are one of the county’s leading growers and processors of stone fruit and table grapes.

 

The working conditions at Gerawan Farming are excellent, and its wage scales exceed those of the United Farm Workers. It has provided many jobs for other immigrant families.

 

The Los Angeles City Council has no business interfering with an enterprise in Fresno County. The council’s motive is obviously to gain favor with the UFW, a big campaign contributor.

 

The council members should spend their efforts and their constituent’s resources on Los Angeles.

 

 

The California Agricultural Labor Relations Board was created in 1975 to ensure peace in the fields of California by guaranteeing justice for all agricultural workers and stability in agricultural labor relations, according to their website. The Board seeks to achieve these ends by providing orderly processes for protecting, implementing, and enforcing the respective rights and responsibilities of employees, employers and labor organizations in their relations with each other.

Founded in 1962 by Cesar Chavez, the United Farm Workers of America is the nation’s first successful and largest farm workers union currently active in 10 states, according to their website. The UFW continues to organize in major agricultural industries across the nation to provide farm workers and other working people with the inspiration and tools to share in society’s bounty.
The Center for Worker Freedom (CWF), a non-profit, educational organization dedicated to warning the public about the causes and consequences of unionization, is helping to coordinate the vigil. CWF supports freedom of association and believes every worker should have the right to decide for themselves whether or not they belong to a labor organization, according to their website.
CWF is a special project of Americans for Tax Reform, a nonprofit taxpayer advocacy research and educational organization.

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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.

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