Gerawan Votes Were Counted in a Professional Way

Votes Were Announced, Union or No Union

By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor

Following Election Protocols, below is a rundown of what happened at 2550 Mariposa Street, Fresno, California. The Gerawan ballots arrived by with ALRB officials carrying them in a black container with red handles. They arrived at the building at approximately 10:15 AM. Watch video here: https://youtu.be/dttdNbUQbG4

Number counted

ON STAGE

1 Veronica Cervantes ALRB Board Agent is running the election
1 UFW voter observer On stage, seated for observation and simultaneous tallying
1 Gerawan farm employee, Angel Lopez. On stage, seated for observation and simultaneous tallying
2 ALRB voter observers On stage, standing for observation
1 Gerawan farm employee On stage, standing for observation
2 ALRB employees On stage, standing for observation in Black Vests with ALRB patches
8 TOTAL ON STAGE

AUDIENCE

100 Silvia Lopez, Jessie Rojas (Pick Justice), Gerawan employees, people in red UFW t-shirts,; media.
2 Lawyers: Tony Raimondo, Ron Barsamian
1 Eduardo Blanco, ALRB
2 Assmb. Jim Patterson, Shannon Dee Grove (Kern County)

Observation Notes

Black cooler with red handles contains ballots.

Cervantes showed 21 large yellow Legal-sized? Envelope packets, each containing blue ballots and yellow #10 envelopes of challenged ballots

  1. Challenged ballots
    1. Cervantes removed ballots in yellow envelopes designating them as “challenged ballots.”
    2. Silvia said even if there are 300 Challenged ballots, “We’ll be OK.”
  2. Challenged ballots were identified during the Nov. 2013 election under the following circumstances:
  3. Farm employees were told to bring a paystub.
  4. Upon arrival, voters picked at random, were asked to show a California ID as well.
  5. If they lacked a second ID, CA ID, their votes were sealed in yellow envelopes designated as challenged ballots.
  6. Many voters told Silvia their vote was challenged. They were upset, angry and intimidated.
  7. TOTAL Contested ballots 634
  8. These contested ballots will be counted today only if necessary after the blue ballots are counted.
  • #10 Yellow envelopes identify and contain one challenged ballot each.
  • Placed in separate gray tote box to isolate them from the blue [non-challenged] ballots
  • See Silvia Lopez’s comments
  1. Blue Ballots
    1. Blue Ballot Rules. If voter:
      • used a check mark instead of an X OK
      • marked in the outer box instead of inner box OK
      • Marked “No” for unwanted option OK
      • Ballot with marking indicated the ID of the voter UNACCEPTABLE
    2. Counted in bunches of 50 2
    3. Read “No Union” in Spanish
    4. Cervantes made announcements in English, then Spanish
    5. 2:36

 

Union

No Union

Invalid

Challenged ballots

Ballots

197

1098

18

Total

635

 

 

7

No markings Unsufficient to affect outcome of ballot count

 

6

Markings on both boxes

2

Signature reveals ID (separated out)

1

Marked in the middle

1

Contains statement, sticker

1

?

1930 Ballots

Expected from 11/ 2013/

677

1948 Total voters

2645 # Names on list

CA Supreme Court Rejects ALRB’s Effort to Avoid Counting Gerawan Farm Votes

California Fresh Fruit Association Applauds CA Supreme Court Order To Count Votes

George Radanovich, President of the California Fresh Fruit Association, applauded the recent decision by the California Supreme Court, upholding the earlier decision by the 5th District Court of Appeals ordering the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) to count the employee ballots cast in their 2013 decertification election.

George Radanovich

Radanovich stated, “Today we welcomed this long overdue decision. We are pleased and encouraged by the recent decision by the California Supreme Court, which affirms that the most important opinion in this entire matter, the prerogative of the employees will be heard.”

Gerawan employees voted in a decertification election in November of 2013 to decide whether or not to decertify from the United Farm Workers Union. Despite the fact the ALRB ordered and oversaw the decertification election, they impounded the ballots, denying recognition and acceptance of their decision.

Radanovich continued, “Today’s court action would not have occurred without the determined effort of Gerawan Farming, Inc., the Gerawan family, and in particular, company President Dan Gerawan for defending his company and his employee’s right to choose. This fight has been long and arduous, but

UFW Breaks Law on Public Hearing But Will Appeal ALRB Ruling

Pick Justice Video Evidence Proves UFW Wrongdoing

By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor

Jesse Rojas, the spokesperson for Pick Justice, summarized the July 24, ALRB decision in favor of the Gerawan farm workers as “amazing.” The ALRB ruled the UFW broke the law and violated the rights of Gerawan farm workers on September 9, 2015, at a public hearing conducted by the ALRB in a hotel in Fresno.

At the 2015 public hearing, Nancy Oropeza, a UFW organizer, instructed hotel security to ban Gerawan Pick Justice employees from attending—in violation of their protected concerted activity. ALRB Administrative Law Judge Mark R. Soble (ALJ) issued the decision that the UFW violated the Agriculture Labor Relations Act by temporarily excluding a group of pro-decertification, anti-UFW farm workers of Gerawan at the recent hearing based on witness interviews and, more importantly, a video that captured everything.

“As you know, with these legal matters,” Rojas explained, “the UFW unfortunately still has the right to appeal it, even though a remedy has been issued. The remedy includes posting notices, just like typical unfair labor practices, to let employees know the UFW broke the law and that it is not supposed to happen again.”

“Ultimately, the ALRB—an unelected, governor-appointed board—has the authority to make the ultimate decision to uphold the ALJ’s full decision, to change it, or to deny it,” Rojas remarked.

“What is a bit disturbing, especially if you compare other cases where the ALRB is very strong against a company or a grower for violating employees’ rights,” he continued, “is the three ALRB members in Sacramento did not want the UFW to advertise the Judge’s remedial message that the UFW broke the law on the UFW’s La Campesina Radio Network. Furthermore, the ALRB did not uphold the ALJ’s recommendation to retrain their organizers so this does not happen again.”

“But because Judge Sobel publicly claimed that the video was a very persuasive piece of evidence,” said Rojas, “the ALRB still upheld that the UFW violated the law. So, the ALRB toned down the severity of the issue and basically just gave [the UFW] a slap on the hand. But we are hopeful that eventually, even if the UFW appeals, this will get remedied and the employees at Gerawan will know that the UFW broke the law and that they have the right to attend a public government hearing.”

Pick Justice is an organization that advocates for 99 percent of the farm workers in the state of California to protect both their freedom to choose their own labor representation as well as their constitutional rights. Pick Justice has supported the Gerawan farm workers in their ongoing legal attempt to mandate the courts to force the ALRB to count their votes from a 2013 election to decertify the UFW as their labor representative.

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

What Does “Bad Faith” Mean?

By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor

Our ongoing coverage of developments among United Farm Workers (UFW), Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB), Gerawan Farming, Inc. and California farm workers chronicles the continuing, increasingly complex quagmire that masquerades as protecting California farm workers’ rights.

As previously published, ALRB Administrative Law Judge William L. Schmidt issued a decision on April 14 in favor of the UFW, finding Gerawan violated labor law by negotiating a collective-bargaining agreement with UFW “in bad faith—commonly called “surface bargaining”—in the eight-month period from January 2013 through August 2013.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALRB Notice to Gerawan Employees

ALRB Notice to Gerawan Employees

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Photo: Attorney Anthony Raimondo


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

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.

Farmworkers Win One

Barry Bedwell: Court Decision Returns Constitutional Rights to Farmworkers

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

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

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

According to a Gerawan press release:

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

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

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

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

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

ALRB Discharges Farmworker Vote, Part 2 Exclusive Interview with Attorney Raimondo

Anthony Raimondo, “Let the People Vote!”

 

In an exclusive interview with Fresno attorney Anthony Raimondo, California Ag Today’s Patrick Cavanaugh discussed the significance to farmworkers of yesterday’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) decision to “set aside” Gerawan farmworker votes from the ALRB-sanctioned November 2013 election to decertify the UFW. Raimondo is the attorney for the UFW union decertification petitioner, Silvia Lopez, an employee of Gerawan Farming, a Fresno County diversified tree fruit operation.

California Ag Today: The central California agricultural industry is flabbergasted this week following the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board’s decision to set asideand not countthe ballots of 2,600 Gerawan farmworkers cast in 2013. What is your take on this decision?

Anthony Raimondo, Fresno County-based attorney
Anthony Raimondo, Fresno County-based attorney

Raimondo: It is unfair because from the outset, we have argued all along that this entire process has been unfair and has denied the workers their “day in court” and their due process. From the first day that Silvia Lopez walked into the ALRB office in Visalia, the greatest opposition to her filing for an election has been the ALRB itself.

We had a judge who couldn’t stay awake for the hearing. We have board members who are—shall we say at the least—biased. In the case of ALRB board member, Genevieve Shiroma, we have a person whose entire career is intertwined with the UFW’s primary paid lobbyist. There’s no way these folks can be objective in a case that has this kind of stakes in the UFW.

And this case is all about money. If they can get a contract with Gerawan, the UFW will essentially double its revenue and double its membership overnight.

California Ag Today: What is at stake for the UFW?

Raimondo: There is a clear reason why the State would end up spending $10 million on this case: They want to silence these workers and save the UFW. There is no union organizing in the field; the UFW has abandoned organizing. They’re not out there getting the workers to support and join the union.

They’re in the courtroom and in the back halls of Sacramento, making deals to take control of these workers’ future, whether the workers want it or not.

Ag LawCalifornia Ag Today: In denying the ballot votes to be counted, the ALRB said it was unfair that the employer—Gerawan in this case—gave the workers a pay raise without permission of the state government or the UFW.

Raimondo: But even with this illegitimate process, the only thing that the Board actually found was that the employer violated the law—not the workers.

So the Board is going to punish the employees by destroying their ballots, like some sort of third-world dictator. What control does the farmworker have over what the company does? What can the workers do to protect their right to vote if their right to vote can be thwarted by what a third party—the company—does?

The workers’ right to vote shouldn’t be in the hands of the company, or of the union, or of anybody else. The California Constitution says that when people cast votes in our state, those votes must be counted. That’s apparently true, unless you’re a farmworker.

California Ag Today: And the agricultural industry is asking, “How can the State of California and the state ALRB get away with this?”

Raimondo: It’s appalling what they’ve done here. It really is appalling. They’ve decided that the best way to control the behavior of an employer is to punish the workers who have no control over that employer.

You know there’s no reason that, if they believe that that election was tainted, they can’t run another election. I’ve spoken to Silvia, and Silvia’s not afraid of letting the people vote. I wonder if the UFW is as brave.

Let the people vote.

California Ag Today: Is the ALRB and the UFW requesting a new vote?

Raimondo: No, they want the farmworkers to stand off to the side and be quiet while the UFW makes the deal through political moves to take their money.

California Ag Today: What’s next?

Raimondo: We are planning, on Silvia’s behalf, to file briefs in the ongoing mandatory arbitration case that is sitting before the California Supreme Court. The UFW has a brief due and the Court has not yet set a hearing date.

We’re hoping that the Supreme Court will be kind enough to give us the opportunity to speak in that case, as the Court of Appeal did. So that case still provides us with a very real chance to vindicate the workers’ rights.

In the election case that was just decided, we are planning on filing a petition for reconsideration with the Board. We think that they need to think twice before they destroy people’s ballots.

California Ag Today: The ballots have not been destroyed at this point, right?

Raimondo: We don’t know. That’s a question only the ALRB can answer.

From my view, I would hope that they were not rushing to have a bonfire today.

I would think that because these votes are precious and irreplaceable, the Board would show the restraint to withhold taking any action on the ballots until the parties have had the opportunity to pursue the various legal options that we have to challenge this decision and make sure they are doing the right thing.

_______________

Resources:

ALRB Decision and Order Case No. 2013-RD-003-VIS, 39 ALRB No. 20, April 15, 2016)

Agricultural Labor Relations Act Employee Questions & Answers ELECTIONS

Petitioner Silvia Lopez’s Petition to Disqualify Board Member Shiroma, ALRB Case No. 2013-RD-003-VIS (39 ALRB No. 20)

California LABOR CODE SECTION 1140-1140.4

Pick Justice

ALRB Discharges Farmworker Vote, Part 1

ALRB Abolishes Gerawan Farmworker Vote

By Laurie Greene, Editor

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

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

The following paraphrased issues were among ALRB findings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Ten Issues Facing Ag

The Top Ten Issues Facing Agriculture:

California Fresh Fruit Association’s Bedwell Lays Them Out

By Patrick Cavanaugh, California Ag Today

For the first time in nearly eight decades, the California Fresh Fruit Association met in San Diego to carry on all the traditions established over the previous 79 years by the organization originally known as the California Grape & Tree Fruit League.

“How does that feel?” said President Barry Bedwell as he addressed a big part of his membership. “For the most part, I think the feedback has been more than positive. As we explain the rationale behind the name change and why we have moved from a very dear moniker, if you will, for an association that has such a great history, I think it is altogether fitting and proper to recognize our position in the state of California,” said Bedwell.

The Association covers the state from Lake County in the North to the Coachella Valley in the South, and represents 13 commodities with a combined value of $2.5 billion.

“The new name transition has gone very well,” noted Bedwell. “And as we look at 2015, I think it is a ‘schizophrenic’ time for agriculture. On the one hand, as our chairman, David Jackson, pointed out, economically, things look very strong for most commodities.”

“However, here we are in a situation of increasing anxiety. If you look at the feedback every year on our top ten issues, you can see the concentration of issues that are not simply operational in scope. They may be historic in impact when talking about water availability and groundwater management, as we move forward,” said Bedwell. “The availability of water, along with the availability of labor, are simply game changers. They can change things overnight. And I think, inherently, farmers understand that and all of you in this room working together as a supply chain understand that.”

Bedwell then announced his traditional Top Ten Issues Affecting Ag and the association and discussed how they changed from the prior year:

#10  Workers’ Compensation costs.  We bought up our partnership with Zenith Insurance. It’s about how to run programs more efficiently to save you money, but we understand that when it comes to the issue of worker’s comp, it is the issue of the legislature changing the laws to benefit certain classes of participants that leads to higher costs that render our competitiveness more difficult.

#9 Invasive Pest Issues. Look no further than what’s happening with the citrus industry and their struggle agains HLB and the idea of the Citrus psyllid continually being found in new counties throughout the state. Pests for us on one hand are more associated with things like the European Grapevine Moth, where we have done a good job, made progress, and have a chance at eradication, but pests are always on our minds because we are only one quarantine away from not being able to ship our fruit, and we understand that.

#8 Water Quality. We hear so much about water availability, but creeping up into our mindset as well, is water quality because we know we have issues with salts and nitrates in the Valley. How does agriculture get involved with this? It continues to be an issue.

#7 Groundwater Management Legislation. We saw on our list—for the first—groundwater management legislation. This is potentially a game changer. We just had a meeting with some of you in Visalia with the California Water Foundation. They are trying to explain the timeframe for this new law, and quite frankly, the more you learn about it, the more you have to be concerned about any potential outcome other than the scope of agriculture in the state of California.

Because what they are saying in an almost commonsense contradiction is that this has nothing to do with your water rights. Those don’t change, but we may limit the amount of water you can use. That is a tough one to figure out at times, but that is potentially where we are headed in the fourth year of the drought. As you hear the vernacular in Sacramento, the mindset begins to change from one of, ‘Maybe we’ll get rain this year,’ to ‘Maybe we are in the fourth year of a ten-year drought.’ So all of the sudden, the mindset begins to change to more management of water. This is a major concern.

#6 Labor Costs. Knowing and trying to educate legislators about the fact that seventy to perhaps eighty percent of our variable costs as farmers is tied up with labor because we deal with the most labor-intense costs possible with our 13 commodities. I don’t look at any as being machine harvested or machine pruned. So, every time there’s a good-will gesture of, ‘Boy, we should move that minimum wage up,’ we try to explain to people we don’t pay minimum wage. Wages are higher; but incrementally, all of our sectors move up, whether you are a tractor driver or an irrigator, and that has a major impact on our ability to compete on a world-wide basis. And you start to see the labor influence spilling into Baja, California.

As you read recently, workers there are demonstrating because they are making about $8/day, and we are probably more about $12/hour for seasonal labor. But we still have to compete with those instances, so labor is always going to be a concern. We always talk about labor laws and regulations.

#5 Agriculture Labor Relations Act. A year ago at this time, we talked about a case involving one of our members, Gerawan, and the United Farm Workers (UFW), who won an election back in 1990, disappeared for 22 years, then showed up again last summer. The UFW said, “We are the certified representatives for the employees, we’re now here, we want our contract.” The catch was that the employees said: “We don’t know anything about you; we don’t know why we should pay you three percent of our wages for dues.”

That situation resulted in a hearing beginning on September 29th. At that time, the hearing was in front of an administrative law judge in Fresno, and was scheduled to go for ten weeks. Those ten weeks finished up about two weeks ago—after 23 weeks had past. That’s incredible, to think, we have heard it cost as high as 7 million dollars to have that administrative hearing, all paid by California taxpayers.

This is not really how the law was intended to benefit the workers. So, as we move forward, we are always going to see efforts by organized labor to change the law to change the scale for their benefit. We saw it last year with SB 25, which really tried to create a perpetual mandatory mediation situation.

We have to continually push back on these bills. The most effective way to do that is to communicate the voices of those impacted, and in this case it is the employees. And so we have tried very hard to create a relationship with the members on the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, and a couple of weeks ago when we were in Sacramento, we had dinner with two of the three board members. And I know the chairman spent most of the time speaking with Harold McClarty, president of HMC Farms, so I know we are in good shape. It is really about relationships and that is what we continue to work on.

#4 Healthcare Mandates. What is happening with the Affordable Care Act, and how is impacting you?

We saw some very practical instances last year where many of our members who use farm-labor contractors were approached. And the labor contractors said, “Well, because of the Affordable Care Act, I’m going to have to raise my rates from $0.70 to $1.10/hour. But under closer examination, we said: “Well—hold it. What percent of your workforce really has to be covered under the Act?” In many cases we found that it certainly wasn’t 100 percent; it was sometimes closer to 10 percent. So we are trying to help administer the understanding of that Act for the best benefit of our members.

#3 The Continuing Need for Immigration Reform. It hasn’t gone away. I am so pleased to have Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association, here with us today, along with his Board chairman Ron Carkoski, because we work very closely on these national issues with Tom and Ron. And our voice is still there. Our level of frustration has grown because as we entered this legislative session in Congress, guess what? What did we hear most about? E-Verify; the Legal Workforce Act; and the concern that we have documented workers. We don’t disagree with that. We think that’s a great idea, but you don’t put the cart in front of the horse; you don’t do E-Verify before you create a system for a legal workforce. That’s a very simple message we are trying to get to the leaders in Congress, and Tom and Ron do an absolutely fantastic job in helping to get that message across.

#2 Food Safety. Last July, I received a phone call from one of our members on a Saturday. It was hard to gauge the impact at the time, because that member said, “I want to let you know that we had four peaches show up in Australia, and there was an indication of Listeria.” Now in Australia, there is technically a tolerance for Listeria, and these were such low levels of Listeria, that that shipment was released.

It went on its way with no issues. But under further examination, Listeria was discovered in the plant. As the U.S. and FDA have no tolerance for Listeria and as U.S. law requires, there was a recall. This was not a small recall. It was a period from June 1st to, I think, July 17th. That is a huge amount of product.

During that time, there were no confirmed illnesses. That doesn’t mean there weren’t claims, because once you start a recall and information goes out to the public, there will be plenty of claims. But from an association point-of-view, how do we react and plan for the future with regard to food safety? Because all of the sudden, the perception of tree fruit in this instance, and peaches and nectarines, in particular, being a low-risk commodity, has changed.

Is it really a low-risk commodity? Absolutely, it is a low-risk commodity. But are we immune? Absolutely not. We found out that we have food safety issues, like so many other fresh produce commodities. We had to communicate the right way not only to the segment of our members who were involved. Many of them were, quite frankly, in a state of denial, saying, “This shouldn’t be happening.” Well it happened.

But I want to applaud the industry, and especially our leadership Association, who said, “We have to do the right thing. We have to communicate our concern. We have to be positive about this.” They not only moved forward with our membership aspect, but  they also created the partnership with the Center for Produce Safety in Davis to develop the best possible practices as we move ahead.

Food safety was further complicated late in the year because of the apple recall. Now those were candied apples, they had caramel on them. But as you can see, the fact is the Listeria found was attributable to the apples, not the coating. Again, we had an industry that thought, quite rightfully, they were low-risk. And once again, we are learning we are not immune. As we move ahead, food safety is going to be a very important component of our work as an Association.

We have created a food safety sub-committee, chaired by George Nicolate.

#1 Can anybody guess? Water. From our perspective, there are three general areas of water we have to focus on. Number one, the Water Bond, and what happened last summer. It is a very good success story, in that we were able, with the help of individuals in the legislature, to maximize the amount of dollars in that bond for above-ground storage. But in Sacramento today, there are challenges and perceptions regarding dams. People have mindsets that unfortunately go to the extreme and in many case, dams is one of those.

I can guarantee that through the efforts of people who were involved in our Association and through the Agricultural President’s Council, we were able to move up what was first a $2 billion proposal, then $2.5, then $2.7, with a commitment for a subsequent legislation on Cross-Valley conveyance in Kern County.

This was a major accomplishment, but as accomplishments go, unless you follow-through, you’re never going to realize the results. And I think George Soares, attorney with Kahn, Soares, and Conway in Sacramento, said it best when he said, “As these things happen, amnesia sets in with people very quickly. And all the sudden the people with whom you were discussing above-ground storage with will start to say, ‘Well, you know the bond says it doesn’t have to be above-ground storage; maybe we could do local projects, regional projects, or maybe we can do underground banking.’”

Our message has been very clear, “No, the deal that was made was on two above-ground storage units, and the fact is that these will be decided by water commissioners. There are public benefit formulas, and those projects should be at the top. And until they are disqualified, they should be the first two that are qualified.”

As we were up in Sacramento a couple weeks ago, I think there was frustration among our participants as we heard the governor’s point person on water start to demonstrate that amnesia right in front of us. And that was a concern.

Number one, we have to push the true intent of the water bond to the finish line.

Number two, we have to have input into the groundwater management regulations a process that will require regulations sustainable management agencies for local water agencies. This is a very complicated issue. It’s very difficult to talk about what sustainability is. When they set baselines to talk about the ability to use groundwater, it is vital that we have the opportunity to give our input to stress the importance of sustainability and to emphasize that human health also involves vibrant farms and the employment of individuals. We have to have those concepts melded together.

Lastly we have the long-term issues of water conveyance in the state. If we are going to remain the agricultural giant that we are with the, I believe, all time record in 2014, we are going to have to find a more efficient way to move water, whether is that is the governor’s BDC plan, which doesn’t appear to be gaining traction, or not. But longer-term, members have said, “We are not against moving excess water South. We have to make sure the health of the Delta is maintained. We have to respect environmental laws, but we have to respect the impact of agriculture on our quality of life. So, water is at the forefront.

So, how’s the association doing? Very well. Financially we are on strong terms, I feel very good about our name change and our voluntary leadership moving ahead. I think we can take confidence in looking ahead at the future for this Association.

In summary, I just want to reiterate my thanks for being able to work for production agriculture. It is frustrating at times. It’s always difficult. Working with people who sometimes don’t understand, … it reminds me of the saying that I read in the paper yesterday and need to share with you. It is by Mark Twain, who said, “You never want to get into an argument with a stupid person, they will simply drag you down to their level, and then beat you with experience.”

Many times, in the world of public policy, that’s what we’re are dealing with at times. But we tend to look at it as an opportunity to educate as well as advocate. Those are two separate things, you have to be good at both of them, and I think our leadership does a very good job with them.

Bedwell gave special thanks to this year’s Chairman David Jackson and his wife Gale. He also reached out to thank his staff for the great job they are doing back at the office and in the field.

For more information, go to: California Fresh Fruit Association.

Farmers Demand Special Master Preserve Uncounted Ballots

Farmworkers at Gerawan Farms have requested the United States District Court (USDC) assign a special master to take possession of their uncounted decertification election ballots.

The uncounted ballots have been in the possession of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB), which has been accused by both farmworkers and Fresno Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Y. Hamilton of being “in cahoots” with the United Farm Workers (UFW) union to suppress the farmworkers’ votes.

“We don’t trust the ALRB,” said Gerawan farmworker Silvia Lopez, who filed the motion yesterday in federal court. “They have been working against us from day one and we don’t believe they are fair or have our best interests in mind. We don’t believe that the ballots are safe with them. A special master will guarantee that the ballots remain safe.”

Ms. Lopez has also requested in the motion that if the USDC appoints a special master, the neutral third party should count the ballots. “There are strong judicial economy reasons to count the ballots, as well as elementary notions of fairness and justice that would support this decision,” said Paul Bauer, attorney for Ms. Lopez.

The ALRB has engaged in a number of activities that proves it is neither impartial nor protecting the rights of the farmworkers, including:

  • ALRB mediators refused to allow farmworkers to attend public Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation (MMC) hearings and contract negotiations.
  • Of the nearly 2,500 signatures originally submitted for the decertification petition, the regional director claimed only 100 were invalid, meaning there were still enough valid signatures to require an election.
  • Despite having 2,500 signatures—enough to trigger the decertification election—the regional director claimed there was not a sufficient showing of interest.
  • Farmworkers then submitted 3,000 signatures in a fraction of the time taken to collect the first set. Three days later, the regional director used another excuse to deny the farmworkers’ vote. This time he incorrectly stated that the union contract had been approved and the farmworkers were prohibited from holding a decertification election. The ALRB members in Sacramento overturned this action.
  • For a third time, the regional director tried to stop the vote by engaging in a sham investigation. The ALRB office in Sacramento again overturned his ruling and instructed him that no other blocks to the decertification election were permitted.
  • A legal decertification election was held on November 5, 2013, but the governor’s ALRB has refused to count the ballots. The ballots are currently in possession of the same regional director who attempted to stop the election from happening three times.
  • Despite a legal challenge to the MMC proceedings and the uncounted decertification ballots, the ALRB General Counsel attempted to impose the new UFW contract on the farmworkers by filing a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) in state court. The judge refused to grant the TRO.

Even Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Y. Hamilton, who presided over the TRO hearing, told the ALRB General Counsel, “In other words, it’s a little bit disingenuous to say you’re protecting these workers’ rights; yet you’re blocking their election at every turn.”

“We hope the federal courts allow a special master take possession of our ballots,” Lopez continued. “It’s clear to everyone, even the court, that the ALRB doesn’t work for us. Why should someone working for the people we’re trying to fire get to keep control over our ballots? It’s not fair and must be stopped.”

To learn more about the farmworkers fight and to view this press release, please visit www.farmworkerrights.com.