The final vote count was 1,098 “No Union,” and 197 for the UFW. The employees overwhelmingly rejected the UFW as their bargaining representative – by a 5 to 1 margin – in spite of the ALRB’s last-minute, election day refusal to count approximately 640 ballots challenged by the UFW.
A secret ballot election is intended to embody and reflect the workers’ fundamental right to choose their representation. That right is at the heart of what the Agricultural Labor Relations Act is designed to protect and promote. Today’s vote tally leaves no doubt what our employees want. It is a ringing endorsement of their right to choose, and a repudiation of concerted, unlawful, and anti-democratic efforts to deny them that right.
We call on the UFW and the ALRB to respect the choices of farmworkers, to certify the results of the election, and to decertify the UFW. We call on the Legislature and the Governor to take immediate steps to ensure that the ALRB’s violation of the basic human rights of farmworkers never occurs again in California.
CONTACT: David Schwarz
Featured Photo: Silvia Lopez, Gerawan Farm Employee, listens to the Sept. 18, 2018 Ballot Count of Nov. 2013 Decertification Election.
Pick Justice’s Jesse Rojas and Gerawan Employees Will Never Give Up
By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor
For nearly five full years, Gerawan Farming Inc. employees have fought a legal battle for the State of California to count their votes cast in the November 2013 election to decertify the United Farm Workers (UFW) as their bargaining representative. According to Jesse Rojas, a farm worker rights activist and spokesperson for Pick Justice, “Anything the UFW does, the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) is right next to them; and anything the ALRB does, the UFW is right next to them. They are one single entity for the most part; they are a partnership.”
Rojas said the ALRB and UFW filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court this week of the Fifth District Court of Appeal decision to count the votes. “We would not be surprised if the state Supreme Court accepts the appeal because Governor Brown appointees and friendly judges would always be likely to take the case,” said Rojas.
“This is where the UFW and the ALRB have failed to mention to the public the fact that we are just asking for the votes to be counted,” Rojas explained. “We are not saying, ‘Certify the results.’ We are not saying, ‘Once you open them and count them, let that be the final choice.’”
“We are saying, ‘You can still litigate it,’” Rojas continued. “‘You can still appeal it. You can still destroy [the ballots] if you want but count them. So why are you so afraid to simply count them?’”
‘This is the perfect question for the UFW, the ALRB, and our California legislators: Why are you so afraid? Employees deserve to know what the choice was, even if you choose to destroy [the ballots] afterward,” Rojas said.
Rojas explained how Governor Brown appointed people to the ALRB who are UFW sympathizers or people who have worked for the UFW.
“It is not only corrupt, it is also very sad and unfair to see over the last years how many companies and jobs have been lost. How many employees and families have been affected? I am not talking just about Gerawan Farming Inc. workers. We can go on and on in McFarland, Delano, Bakersfield, Salinas and Santa Maria for similar examples of how the ALRB has failed to protect farm workers.”
“Launching Pick Justice was great because it started with thousands of Gerawan farm employees who have been very courageous and have not given up,” Rojas explained. “Pick Justice expanded when other workers started reaching out to us from different companies, perhaps dealing with different issues. For example, we have a lot of workers from the Monterey and Salinas area that have been under a UFW contract for decades, but the UFW fails to protect them.”
“The UFW neglects its members by not reporting certain things to them, by segregating those employees who are unhappy with [the UFW] as well as keeping them away from information or meetings,” Rojas said. “Also, by being on the side of the employer—whatever the employer wants to force upon the workers, even if it’s not in their best interests—and forcing it down their throats.”
“After I reached out to Silvia Lopez, we started to meet over the following months. Many of the workers reached out to me. I have spoken to them on my phone. I’ve gone to their houses. I know their spouses. I know their children. I’ve eaten with them, and that’s where I became even more passionate. I said, ‘Look, you guys are the face of this. Your courage is what makes this effort great over so many years; you just don’t give up. You know what you want, and you know what is right.’ ”
“All I have to do,” Rojas continued, “is help you with communication media using techniques that I know, which is so simple. Social media, digital marketing, things that I grew up with and that I’m very good at. Pick Justice is not about me; it’s about them. If they weren’t still fighting, if they weren’t as strong and courageous as they are, we would not have Pick Justice today.”
“In this fight, we’ve gone up against almost all odds. We are going against the state government. We are going against a three- to four-decade-old system, with views, opinions, and decades-long teachings of the UFW and its leaders—its idols, per se—who have parks, schools, and streets named after them.”
“We’ve been attacked, and we continue to be attacked. But we know what we’re doing is right, and we have the numbers. If I didn’t have thousands of workers standing behind me, I wouldn’t be able to do this.”
Rojas said the Gerawan farm workers absolutely knew if they kept fighting, they would be vindicated.
“They did not give up; they are so motivated. And now, we’re in a waiting game for the most of accounting, but the stakes are high.”
“Think about Silvia Lopez,” he said. “You don’t think she’s going to be attacked by the UFW after attending Ivanka Trump’s recent Central Valley event? You don’t think I’m going to be attacked? I’ll give you an example. When Silvia met Tim Donnelly, a 2014 gubernatorial candidate who cared about her story, the UFW circulated a flyer of that picture and called her a racist towards all employees. Why? Because she’s searching for help for farm workers.”
“The UFW is weak; they represent less than one percent of the farm workers. California has an estimated average of 800,000 farm workers in the state—could be more, could be less,” Rojas said. “Current UFW membership fluctuates around 5,000 active members—less than one percent of farm workers. So for them to continue to be quoted as ‘the champions for farm workers and for Latino workers’ is absolutely wrong.”
“Specifically, their words and their actions do not go with one another,” he continued, “including their stance on immigration. If people simply looked up some of the legislation opposed by the UFW, they would see that the UFW is actually not for immigration. It is ironic and hypocritical to keep quoting and portraying the current UFW leadership as pro-employee and pro-Latino.”
“I know I will never give up and I know that thousands of workers behind me will never give up.”
When Will the Court Ordered Gerawan Votes Be Counted? Part 1
By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor
Jesse Rojas, a farm worker rights activist and spokesperson for Pick Justice, (PickJustice.com) expects the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) and United Farm Workers union (UFW) will appeal the recent ruling by Fifth District Court of Appeals in Fresno, which ordered the ALRB to count Gerawan Farming, Inc. employees’ votes cast nearly five years ago.
Specifically, on May 30, 2018, the Court ordered the ALRB to count Gerawan farm employees’ votes cast in a November 2013 government-sanctioned election to decertify the United Farm Workers (UFW) as their collective bargaining representative, a union that abandoned the workers for over two decades.
The ALRB held the decertification election in response to petitions filed by Gerawan employees following notification that the UFW moved to impose both UFW bargaining representation and union dues (three percent of salary) on Gerawan employees under the Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation Regulation created in 2002 but then amended in 2011 to allow ALRB to reverse election wins.
Historically, the ALRB certified the UFW as the bargaining representative of Gerawan employees in 1992; however, the UFW never attempted to negotiate in good faith with Gerawan Farming, Inc. on behalf of the employees, nor did the UFW collect dues. The UFW then abandoned the Gerawan employees for nearly a quarter of a century.
Rojas explained, “Our state government continues to refuse to count the votes. That is un-American. These thousands of workers, Hispanic workers who are Americans, came to this country for freedom and the ability to choose what is best for them and their families. They have been waiting for nearly five years for the government to count these votes. Where are the votes? We don’t even have confirmation of the safety and status of those ballot boxes.”
“When the Fifth District Court of Appeals made this announcement, Silvia Lopez was absolutely stunned by it,” said Rojas. “She feels like we haven’t really won a lot in the last few years. At one time, Silvia said, ‘I escaped the corruption from my government in Mexico and I get to California and I’m starting to experience the same and feel the same way,” Rojas said.
“Ninety-nine percent of my family still lives in Mexico, so I know what we ran away from, what makes this country great, and why we are here. So it’s really sad for us to see in this particular state, with Jerry Brown and the majority of the legislators in Sacramento, they are breaking away families because of economic suppression and government corruption,” he said. “They are destroying jobs or they are complicit in the destruction of thousands of jobs, not just at Gerawan Farms, the biggest example. There are multiple companies where the UFW and the ALRB, both, and our government, have failed to protect worker rights and their jobs.”
“I’ll tell you, ” Rojas continued, “from reading most of the decision, which was over 130 pages, it was historic—not just because they said, ‘Count the votes,’ but because of specific legal arguments they used. They went as far as putting a footnote that told the legislature they should amend or change the law, so this does not happen again. They really went above and beyond to explain why this has been really wrong and why it needs a big remedy.”
“I’m not only biased,” Rojas said, “I am 100 percent pro-agriculture and pro-farm workers because I grew up in farming. You know, the moment my parents and I arrived from Mexico, we encountered the history of the grape strikes and UFW beginnings. I grew up hearing their stories and ideology.”
Seeing how their current actions and results differ from the original movement told throughout history, this drove Rojas to step out and publicly speak about it.
Pick Justice advocates freedom of choice for farm workers. They are concerned citizens who support the rights of workers to choose whether or not they want to have a union represent them. They are standing up for workers who are victimized by a politicized government agency. They believe that freedom of choice is a human right. From their “About Us” page: “People who are not educated are deprived of their freedom by those who are educated.
Pick Justice exists to educate the public about the corrupt relationship between a once-noble union and the dishonest government employees 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.” Pick Justice encompasses the vibrant website www.PickJustice.com, plus YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Snapchat social media outlets.
Rojas is also founder and CEO of The Redd Group, LLC based out in Bakersfield. “At The Redd Group, we provide all aspects of labor relations and human resources consulting,” he explained. “This year, we started doing more political consulting and public relations, helping campaigns and companies understand data blind spots that may keep them from maximizing their potential and coach them to adopt winning strategies by focusing on the simple 3 M’s of marketing: identify the specific Market, then craft the exact Message, then finally choose the best Medium to deliver the message. Wherever and however we can, we try to contribute our views and beliefs, as well as whatever we can do to change a little bit of the government for the better and create awareness where needed.”
Gerawan Workers Will See Vote Counted After 4.5 Years of Seeking Justice
By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor
Following the Nov. 5, 2013 Gerawan Farming, Inc. employees’ legally unresolved election to decertify the United Farm Workers (UFW) as their collective bargaining representative, the employees’ message has been simple: Count the votes!
Yesterday, California’s 5th District Court of Appeals—in a 3-0 decision—ordered the California Agriculture Labor Relations Board (ALRB) to unseal the ballots, count them and issue an official tally.
Dan Gerawan, who co-owns Gerawan Farming, Inc. with his brother Mike and father Ray, said “This is a victory for our employees who never gave up the struggle to achieve the same rights that all other workers have. And we never wavered from our support of their right to choose.”
“I have no clue when the votes are to be counted,” Gerawan explained. “The ARLB and UFW are going to appeal this decision to the California Supreme Court. I do not know if the California Supreme Court will take it.
“But I’m certain that ARLB and UFW are going to try to get the California Supreme Court to take it because the last thing they want is for our employees to have a choice. They want this unionization forced on them against their will,” Gerawan said.
“This is a huge victory and well deserved to these thousands of Latino immigrant farmworkers who have been fighting and sacrificing their time and families’ future to simply have the right to choose and vote in America,” Jesse Rojas, Spokesperson for Pick Justice, an advocacy group for Gerawan farm employees.
“The ALRB and UFW clearly continue to show that they are afraid to let workers vote and show what they want and what is better for their families. After glancing through the Fifth District Court of Appeals decision, I find the attached highlighted screenshots worth noting,” said Rojas.
Anthony Raimondo, president of Fresno-based Raimondo & Associates, is the attorney for Gerawan Farms employee Silvia Lopez, who started the petition and campaign to oust the UFW when they returned to the farm following 20 years of absence. The UFW never successfully represented the employees in reaching a contract with their employer, nor did it ever collect union dues from employees.
“The Court of Appeal is very clear,” said Raimondo. “It just says, ‘You’ve got to count the ballots.’”
“The first thing that Silvia said to me was how happy she is to get this decision from the Court,” Raimondo continued. “This is a vindication of what the workers have been fighting for, for more than five years now, since they first began this effort to expel the union. They aimed to protect their income from going to fund the UFW’s efforts,” Raimondo stated.
“The workers have been ignored. Their rights have been trampled on by the ALRB. The ALRB has disregarded them. They were told that they didn’t matter. They were told that their voice would never be heard, but they never gave up,” Raimondo said. “They never stopped fighting. This decision is a vindication of the fact that justice can be done and that the right thing can happen when people remain committed to it. I can’t say enough about the commitment these workers have shown to this effort.”
“This is a huge victory for these farm employees,” said California Assemblymember Jim Patterson who represents the 23rd Assembly District that covers parts of Fresno and Tulare Counties.
“I’m happy for them. Justice is being done, although it is taking a long, long time. It’s another indication of just how far off base the ALRB is. Primarily, the ALRB is a tool for the UFW to force the Gerawan field employees into contracts that they do not want, cannot approve, and did not vote for. So it’s a very good decision for these workers to have the kinds of freedoms that everybody else has.”
Patterson emphasized that the ALRB’s goal is to take those kinds of freedoms away. “The vote count will probably go forward. My guess is ALRB will try to drag their feet. But I think this is a solid [Court] opinion. And now we wait and see if the ALRB considers themselves to be above and beyond the law, or whether they recognize that they have gone far afield, and they’re going to have to correct some very, very illegal behavior,” Patterson said.
Raimondo explained, “There is no substantive history in the record that demonstrates that the ALRB had any jurisdiction or any legal standing to take those ballots and stash them away for all of these years. It was a blatant effort to stifle their votes to do the bidding of the UFW. They have gotten caught at it, and now they’re going to have to correct their illegal activity. If they don’t, I think they are going to suffer some severe decisions with these Courts. I think if they don’t comply, they’re going to get very close to breaking Court orders and breaking the law.”
Gerawan added, “Don’t forget, fifteen million taxpayer dollars have been spent to suppress those ballots. That kind of money spent by anyone, even the government, could [indicate] a lot of fraud took place with that ballot box.”
Raimondo claimed, “It is clear that the Gerawan farm employees are not cynical. They believe in the promise of America. They believe in our system of justice. That’s why they have continued to fight. It’s why they have continued to protest. It’s why they have continued to assert their voice in Court.”
“They knew from the very beginning that this was an injustice,” Raimondo continued..”They knew that the ALRB was mistreating them. They knew that they were treated like second-class citizens, but they also believed that if they continued to fight and to do things the right way—through peaceful protest and by asserting their positions in Court—that the right thing would happen. The workers had faith that the system works, that judges would ultimately hear their voices and that justice would be done.”
“The reality here, I believe, and the Gerawan workers believe, is that in the end, justice will prevail. We believe we will be heard and corruption will not win. The workers’ voice is going to win here. Democracy is going to win here. Those votes will be counted,” Raimondo said.
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).
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 choose—freedom 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.”
CA Supreme Court Hears Case of Gerawan Farming, Inc. vs. UFW/ ALRB
By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
Post-Labor Day, Forced Unionization Hearing at CA Supreme Court
By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor
Forced Unionization Hearing
On Tuesday, Sept. 5, one day after Labor Day, busloads of concerned farmers and farm workers will arrive at the Supreme Court of California in San Francisco to support Gerawan Farming and farm workers—and quite possibly 80,000 family farms in the state—against forced unionization in the first case on the Court’s agenda: Gerawan Farming, Inc. v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board (United Farm Workers of America, Real Party in Interest) and Consolidated Case, S227243 (Kline, P. J., assigned justice pro tempore).
Gerawan Case History
Explaining the case history, David Schwarz, attorney for Gerawan Farming, Inc. from the Los Angeles-based law firm of Irell & Manella LLP, said, “This case began almost five years ago in mid-October of 2012. The United Farm Workers (UFW) sent a letter to Gerawan Farming demanding that the company resume bargaining over a collective bargaining agreement. The UFW had won an election at Gerawan in 1990 and was certified to represent the workers by the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) in 1992. After one preliminary negotiating session in early 1995, the union disappeared and wasn’t heard from by Gerawan for nearly 20 years.”
“The UFW resurfaced in late 2012 demanding negotiations,” Schwarz stated, “but after ten bargaining sessions, the union abandoned the bargaining table.” This scenario was similar to UFW’s behavior after having won several certification elections by California farm workers employed on separately-owned farms but was unable to obtain first contracts with many growers on behalf of these farm workers.
Farm Worker Rights under the Agricultural Labor Relations Act
According to the ALRB website, all agricultural employees in California, whether or not they are represented by a labor organization (union), have certain rights under the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA or Act). The purpose of the Act is to ensure peace in the agricultural fields by guaranteeing justice for all agricultural workers and stability in labor relations. The ALRA became law in 1975.
The Act describes and protects the rights of agricultural employees to make their own decisions about whether or not they want a union to negotiate with their employer about their wages, hours, and other working conditions. Where the employees, through a secret ballot election, have selected a union to represent them, the Act requires that the employer bargain in good faith with the union concerning wages, hours, and other working conditions.
The Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) is the state agency established to enforce the Act.
Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation (MMC)
“At this juncture, UFW invoked a process known as “Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation (MMC), a euphemism for forced-contracting, passed by the legislature in 2002 at the behest of UFW,” Schwarz explained. “Through MMC, the State of California imposes a contract on the employer and its farm workers at the union’s request. In Gerawan’s case, the failure to reach a contract can be explained by the failure of the UFW to show up and attempt to negotiate; however, that failure to bargain—or for that matter, the union’s complete abandonment of the Gerawan farm workers—was deemed irrelevant in the eyes of the ALRB.”
“The ALRB argued that the union certification in 1992 means the UFW remains the perpetual representative of Gerawan workers now and forever,” said Schwarz, “and until such time as the workers vote the union out through a petitioned election process known as decertification.” The ALRB disregarded both UFW’s failure to represent Gerawan farm workers in any successful contract negotiation and the UFW’s failure to qualify to collect union dues from Gerawan farm workers. Most significantly, the ALRB disregarded the legally-sanctioned and ALRB-supervised election on November 5, 2013, in which Gerawan farm workers had the opportunity to vote to decertify the UFW or not—the ballots of which have never been counted and are believed to be stored in an unknown, unsecured location.
“Let’s be clear,” Schwarz explained, “at no point after this union was certified until this union invoked the MMC process, was there an allegation that Gerawan refused to show up or refused to negotiate the terms of the contract. So this is not a case about a grower refusing to show up at the bargaining table or a grower inserting that the abandonment forfeits the right of the union to bargain.”
“Rather, this is a case about whether or not the union’s abandonment means that it forfeits the right to compel the State of California to force a contracting process on the workers. And that’s the key difference: between duty to bargain, which is a continuous bargain, and the right, as the union claims, to impose a state-ordered contract.”
What is at Stake for Farm Workers?
Tal Cloud, president and co-founder of Fresno-based family-owned Paper Pulp & Film, Inc., a converter of printing and industrial papers, including raisin (drying) trays, is part of the team that organized the trip. Cloud said, “The UFW and the California ALRB are hoping the California Supreme Court will rule in their favor by forcing unionization on California farms and farm workers—the next flash point in the two-decade long battle between Gerawan Farming and the UFW.”
“People don’t understand that this is incrementalism,” Cloud said. “If the California Supreme Court rules against Gerawan, it literally puts every agricultural operation of any size in the state right in the “bulls-eye” for mandatory UFW unionization, and that is what is so concerning. And although people do not understand it, the laws are already all there; they just need to be formalized. So, yes, it is really scary.”
“The ALRB has power in these courts due to California legislators who have given the ALRB all these powers, but without checks or balances,” said Cloud. “So, you have an agency that basically plays god with people’s lives and there are no legitimate governmental organizations or courts looking at it, until now that [the forced unionization case] has come to the California Supreme Court.”
The upcoming California Supreme Court hearing follows the UFW’s appeal of a lower court ruling in favor of Gerawan on the same issue in 2015. “We are hoping that the Court goes by the law, and does not give [the ALRB and UFW] this kind of opportunity to really put all of our operations in California at risk for forced unionization and forced contracts,” Cloud said.
“The bus trip on Tuesday is to make a statement and not sit by silently. The hearing is at 9:00 A.M., and more than 300 people from the Valley are going. We are leaving at 3:30 AM, providing food for our passengers and protesting outside the Supreme Court. The UFW also will be rallying at the Supreme Court.
It remains uncertain if farm workers will be allowed inside the courtroom. Cloud said, “There has already been a lot of back and forth about not allowing any farm workers, or Silvia Lopez (the Gerawan farm worker spokesperson) into the courtroom. The attorneys are still fighting on that. But there will be a big protest, so to speak, outside.”
“There are public areas for us to be in, and we will be peaceful like all the other demonstrations that we have done,” Cloud said. “My hope is that everyone stays safe and we do not have extremists or rabble-rousers there who try to cause problems.”
Cloud said there is a glimmer of hope for the farming industry because the UFW lost to the lower courts. “But, you just don’t know. We are hoping these farmers, farm workers and protesters will bring attention to this issue,” he said.
Once the California Supreme Court hearing is completed, the court will have 90 days to make its ruling. “The reality is: If agriculture does not get behind the effort against MMC now, and the California Supreme Court reverses the lower court’s decision, literally every farming organization in California could face unionization. And that is a scary thought,” said Cloud.
“Likewise, if the ruling goes against the UFW,” Cloud said, “I am sure the case will go to United States Supreme Court, which would certainly be a do-or-die point for agriculture.”
ALRB Rejects Gerawan’s Motion to Disqualify Isadore Hall III
By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor
Our ongoing coverage of developments among United Farm Workers (UFW), Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB), Gerawan Farming, Inc. and California farm workers chronicles the continuing, increasingly complex quagmire that masquerades as protecting California farm workers’ rights.
In short, after a series of legal volleys between Gerawan Farming and ALRB this past spring, the ALRB, again, refused to disqualify ALRB Member Isadore Hall III, former state senator (35th District, D-Compton), from participating in specific Gerawan legal cases on the basis of alleged pro-UFW bias.
In legal terms, ALRB issued an administrative order on June 9, 2017, denying Gerawan Farming, Inc.’s May 23, 2017 motion for reconsideration of request to disqualify Isadore Hall III from participating in specific case deliberations and decisions regarding Gerawan Farming, Inc. Likewise, ALRB also denied Gerawan’s request for a stay of the proceedings pending resolution of Mr. Hall’s participation.
Condensed Early History
The UFW was certified as the bargaining representative for Gerawan’s agricultural employees in July 1992, after a 1990 election. After one preliminary negotiating session in February 1995, the UFW disappeared for almost two decades, having never collected dues, negotiated for a wage increase, attempted to bargain for a contract or filed a single grievance on behalf of Gerawan employees during their abandonment, according to an April 17, 2017, Gerawan news release.
In 2013, the UFW invoked a controversial 2002 Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation (MMC) law that allows the ALRB to draft and impose a “contract” on the employer and employees against their will. UFW also proposed that Gerawan employees pay 3% of their wages to the UFW or be fired. Fewer than 1% of the current Gerawan workforce voted in the 1990 election, and many current employees were not even born when that election took place.
The majority of employees twice asked ALRB for an election to decertify the UFW. At the ALRB’s request, the Fresno Superior Court intervened and supervised the decertification petition process—the first time in ALRB history that a court oversaw an ALRB election.
On November 5, 2013, thousands of Gerawan workers cast secret ballots to decide whether to decertify the UFW. The ALRB impounded the ballots, which remain uncounted to this date in an undisclosed (possibly insecure) location.
Current History – 2017
Appointment of Isadore Hall III to ALRB
In his January 13, 2017, letter of resignation to Governor Brown as ALRB Chairman, William B. Gould IV stated that the Agricultural Labor Relations Act [ALRA or “Act”] “is now irrelevant to farm workers, in particular, because, for the most part, they are not aware of the provisions, procedures, and rights contained in the law.”
“I have pointed out [in several speeches] that only one representation petition has been filed during the 34 months of my Chairmanship,” Gould continued. “More than 99% of the agricultural workforce appears to be unrepresented and the instances of unfair labor practice charges and invocation of the Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation Act (MMC) are few and far between.”
“Regrettably, though the Board adopted the proposed rule 14 months ago for worker education about the Act’s features, the rule has languished in the bowels of state bureaucracy for the past 14 months. My view is that this long delay is substantially attributable to the fact that the ALRB, unlike the NLRB, is not a standalone, independent administrative agency.”
Also on January 13, 2017, Governor Brown designated Genevieve Shiroma as Chair of the ALRB, where she had served as a member since 1999, an appointment that did not require Senate confirmation. Likewise, Governor Brown appointed Isadore Hall III, and the California Senate confirmed his appointment, despite Hall’s public history of pro-UFW activity and endorsements and allegations that he threatened farmers who opposed his nomination.
Agricultural Community Responds to Hall’s Appointment
In “Farmers Deserve a Balanced Ag Labor Board,”a letter published in the Sacramento Bee on February 23, 2017 by George Radanovich, (president of the California Fresh Fruit Association), Joel Nelsen (president of California Citrus Mutual) and Tom Nassif (president of Western Growers Association), the authors explained, “The purpose of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA) was to bring about a sense of justice and fair play during a tumultuous time in the farm fields of California in 1975.”
“When the ALRB was formed in 1975,” the authors stated, “it was with the understanding that membership would consist of two members representing labor, two representing agriculture, and one public or neutral member. Instead, the board has become one of the most contentious, lopsided administrative boards ever assembled by the state of California. The recent resignation of Chairman William Gould IV and his prompt replacement by former state Sen. Isadore Hall, D- Compton, only further illustrate this imbalance.”
In place of conducting outreach to all affected stakeholders, including agriculture, “in a matter of 48 hours, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed a termed-out state senator and failed congressional candidate who has no labor law background whatsoever but with strong ties to the UFW.”
Hall’s UFW ties were listed as “financial support by the UFW, personal ties with UFW President Arturo Rodriguez and raising the union banner while marching with the UFW. While a state senator, Hall was the principal co-author of two UFW-sponsored bills and voted in favor of two other bills that would make it easier to force ALRB-written contracts on farmers and workers. These close ties should disqualify him from the position where he will judge UFW issues almost daily.”
“There is no denying that the ALRB’S recent decision to prevent the disclosure of the November 2013 election results, from the high-profile decertification fiasco of Gerawan Farming of Fresno was to cover up the fact that most farm workers don’t want to unionize.”
“Today, California farm workers are protected by the strictest labor laws in the nation, and they decline to unionize because they value a good employer over a union. Brown should recognize this and rewrite the ALRA to guarantee employer representation on the board. California farmers deserve better than a lopsided Agricultural Labor Relations Board.”
ALRB Decides Gerawan Negotiated “in Bad Faith”
On April 14, 2017, ALRB Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) William Schmidt issued an interim decision finding that Gerawan committed an unfair labor practice by refusing to negotiate “in good faith” with the UFW. Essentially Judge Schmidt contended, “Gerawan engaged in collective bargaining negotiations with the UFW with no intention of reaching an agreement covering the wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment for the employees in the collective bargaining unit.”
According to David Schwarz, counsel for Gerawan Farming, “This decision was riddled with legal and factual errors. The most glaring of these errors was the fact that ALJ Schmidt found that Gerawan failed to negotiate when it had already been ordered to [follow] a process [MMC] where traditional give-and-take negotiation had been replaced by government-imposed forced contracting.”
According to an April 17, 2017 Gerawan newss release, “The so-called MMC procedures are neither consensual nor voluntary. It is forced contracting. The ALRB tells the employer what wages to pay, what employees to hire, or fire, or promote, and what portion of the employees’ salary will be turned over to the union. The employer may not opt out and the employees are not given the choice to ratify or reject the so-called contract that will be forced on them, even if there are provisions detrimental to them.”
“There is a fundamental – and constitutional – difference between consensual bargaining and state-compelled contracting,” said Dan Gerawan, president and CEO of Gerawan Farming. “The ALJ obliterates this distinction.”
Gerawan added that MMC does not facilitate negotiations. Rather, it is an imposed agreement by force of law and Gerawan was compelled to abide by it.
Schwarz explained, “Per the ALRB’s own regulations, MMC kicks in only after the Board has certified that further negotiation between the parties would be futile.”
At that point, according to Schwarz, a government-appointed arbitrator steps in, hears evidence from each party, drafts a CBA (or collective bargaining agreement), which the Board approves and imposes on the parties by force of law. Since there is no place for negotiation in this process, Schwarz contends there is no logical or legal basis for ALJ Schmidt to conclude that Gerawan’s conduct during MMC could justify his finding that Gerawan failed to negotiate in good faith with the UFW.
Gerawan Files Motion to Disqualify Member Hall from participating in “Bad Faith” Negotiating Case
On April 28, 2017, Gerawan Farming, Inc. filed a Motion to Disqualify Board Member Isadore Hall from participating in the deliberations in the case above based on documented “sweeping prejudicial” statements Member Hall made against Gerawan.
“Our DQ motion was very compelling,” Dan Gerawan said. “Hall marched specifically against us and our employees and received an endorsement from UFW in return. It’s ridiculous that he was assigned to a job where 90% of his work will be to adjudicate UFW-related issues, and half of his work will be Gerawan-related.”
ALRB Rejects Gerawan’s Motions to Disqualify ALRB Member Hall and to Request a Stay from Participating in “Bad Faith” Negotiating Case
On May 18, 2017, the ALRB rejected Gerawan’s motions to disqualify ALRB member Isadore Hall and to request a stay in order to resolve the motion to disqualify.
“Hall’s disqualification would leave the ALRB without a current valid quorum of three members to hear the case,” Schwarz said, “thus lacking the statutory power to act. The Governor can resolve this issue by simply doing what the ALRA requires him to do – appoint two additional ALRB members, thus bringing the Board to its statutorily-requisite composition, which is five members.”
Gerawan Files Motion for Reconsideration of the Board’s Order Denying Motion to Disqualify Member Hall
On May 23, 2017, Gerawan filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the Board’s Order Denying Motion to Disqualify Member Hall, repeating its request for a stay of the proceedings pending resolution of the motion.
“Gerawan filed this motion for reconsideration both to correct serious legal errors in the Board’s initial decision,” Schwarz said, “and to bring to light new evidence regarding the identity of an individual who participated in a conversation with Mr. Hall in which Mr. Hall stated that he was going to ‘get’ Gerawan once he was a member of the Board. This individual, Mr. Shaun Ramirez, provided a declaration in support of Gerawan’s first motion to disqualify Member Hall. However, Mr. Ramirez and his employer, concerned that the Board (or Mr. Hall) might retaliate against them for speaking out, initially asked that Mr. Ramirez’s identity remain confidential.”
“The Board initially refused to consider Mr. Ramirez’s declaration – precisely because he asked that Gerawan not reveal his name for fear of retaliation. After the Board denied Gerawan’s motion to disqualify Mr. Hall, Mr. Ramirez allowed Gerawan to file an unredacted version of his declaration with this motion for reconsideration. This declaration set out in great detail Mr. Ramirez’s interactions with Mr. Hall and Mr. Hall’s statement, in reference to Gerawan, ‘I am going to get their ass.’”
ALRB Denies Gerawan’s Motion For Reconsideration to Disqualify Board Member Hall from Deliberations in this Case
On June 9, 2017, ALRB denied both Gerawan’s motion for reconsideration to disqualify Board Member Hall from deliberations in the case and Gerawan’s request for reconsideration of an immediate stay of the proceedings.
“As discussed,” Schwarz said, “Gerawan filed a motion for reconsideration with an unredacted version of Mr. Ramirez’s declaration. The Board again refused to consider Mr. Ramirez’s detailed account of his conversation with Member Hall. The Board took the position that it was under no requirement to consider such evidence in a motion for reconsideration, as the declaration was not ‘newly discovered’ or ‘previously unavailable.’ The Board discounted Mr. Ramirez’s reasons for desiring anonymity, and disregarded the merits of his sworn statement, without explaining why the revelation of his identity did not require it to reconsider the basis [the anonymity of the declarant] for disregarding it in the first place.”
“Of equal significance is that Mr. Hall participated in deciding his own disqualification motion,” Schwarz added. “This violates a basic rule of due process and long-standing Board precedent that a member accused of bias cannot decide his own disqualification motion. Instead, Member Hall offered his own statement that he was not biased against Gerawan, albeit without denying or affirming the truth of Mr. Ramirez’s declaration.”
“Unlike Mr. Ramirez,” said Schwarz, “Member Hall’s ‘concurring’ opinion was not under oath.”
In the official ALRB Decision, Hall wrote, “I reject the claims of bias leveled against me by Gerawan and decline to recuse myself from participation in the deliberations in this case.”
In reaction to the Board’s refusal to disqualify Member Hall, Schwarz said, “Gerawan will appeal the Board’s decision. We are confident that this unprecedented and unconstitutional decision will not stand.”
Featured photo: Isadore Hall III marching with UFW prior to ALRB appointment.
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.