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

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

 

By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Silvia Lopez, Gerawan farm worker spokesperson

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

 

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

 

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

Marc Grossman, spokesperson for the United Farm Workers of America

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Ron Barsamian, attorney for Gerawan Farming, Inc.

 

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

David Schwarz, attorney for Gerawan Farming, Inc.

 

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

 

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

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

Who Safeguards Farm Worker Rights? – Part 8

Pick Justice, Gerawan Farm Workers Protest Forced Unionization

Who Safeguards CA Farm Workers’ Rights? Part 5

Post-Labor Day, Forced Unionization Hearing at CA Supreme Court

 

By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor

 

Forced Unionization Hearing

On Tuesday, Sept. 5, one day after Labor Day, busloads of concerned farmers and farm workers will arrive at the Supreme Court of California in San Francisco to support Gerawan Farming and farm workers—and quite possibly 80,000 family farms in the state—against forced unionization in the first case on the Court’s agenda:  Gerawan Farming, Inc. v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board (United Farm Workers of America, Real Party in Interest) and Consolidated Case, S227243 (Kline, P. J., assigned justice pro tempore).

 

Gerawan Case History

Explaining the case history, David Schwarz, attorney for Gerawan Farming, Inc. from the Los Angeles-based law firm of Irell & Manella LLP, said, “This case began almost five years ago in mid-October of 2012. The United Farm Workers (UFW) sent a letter to Gerawan Farming demanding that the company resume bargaining over a collective bargaining agreement. The UFW had won an election at Gerawan in 1990 and was certified to represent the workers by the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) in 1992. After one preliminary negotiating session in early 1995, the union disappeared and wasn’t heard from by Gerawan for nearly 20 years.”

 

“The UFW resurfaced in late 2012 demanding negotiations,” Schwarz stated, “but after ten bargaining sessions, the union abandoned the bargaining table.” This scenario was similar to UFW’s behavior after having won several certification elections by California farm workers employed on separately-owned farms but was unable to obtain first contracts with many growers on behalf of these farm workers.

 

Farm Worker Rights under the Agricultural Labor Relations Act 

According to the ALRB website, all agricultural employees in California, whether or not they are represented by a labor organization (union), have certain rights under the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA or Act). The purpose of the Act is to ensure peace in the agricultural fields by guaranteeing justice for all agricultural workers and stability in labor relations. The ALRA became law in 1975.

The Act describes and protects the rights of agricultural employees to make their own decisions about whether or not they want a union to negotiate with their employer about their wages, hours, and other working conditions. Where the employees, through a secret ballot election, have selected a union to represent them, the Act requires that the employer bargain in good faith with the union concerning wages, hours, and other working conditions.

The Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) is the state agency established to enforce the Act.

 

Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation (MMC)

“At this juncture, UFW invoked a process known as “Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation (MMC), a euphemism for forced-contracting, passed by the legislature in 2002 at the behest of UFW,” Schwarz explained. “Through MMC, the State of California imposes a contract on the employer and its farm workers at the union’s request. In Gerawan’s case, the failure to reach a contract can be explained by the failure of the UFW to show up and attempt to negotiate; however, that failure to bargain—or for that matter, the union’s complete abandonment of the Gerawan farm workers—was deemed irrelevant in the eyes of the ALRB.”

Count our votes Farm workers' rights UFW Endorsement

“The ALRB argued that the union certification in 1992 means the UFW remains the perpetual representative of Gerawan workers now and forever,” said Schwarz, “and until such time as the workers vote the union out through a petitioned election process known as decertification.” The ALRB disregarded both UFW’s failure to represent Gerawan farm workers in any successful contract negotiation and the UFW’s failure to qualify to collect union dues from Gerawan farm workers. Most significantly, the ALRB disregarded the legally-sanctioned and ALRB-supervised election on November 5, 2013, in which Gerawan farm workers had the opportunity to vote to decertify the UFW or not—the ballots of which have never been counted and are believed to be stored in an unknown, unsecured location.

 

“Let’s be clear,” Schwarz explained, “at no point after this union was certified until this union invoked the MMC process, was there an allegation that Gerawan refused to show up or refused to negotiate the terms of the contract. So this is not a case about a grower refusing to show up at the bargaining table or a grower inserting that the abandonment forfeits the right of the union to bargain.”

 

“Rather, this is a case about whether or not the union’s abandonment means that it forfeits the right to compel the State of California to force a contracting process on the workers. And that’s the key difference: between duty to bargain, which is a continuous bargain, and the right, as the union claims, to impose a state-ordered contract.”

 

What is at Stake for Farm Workers?

 

Tal Cloud, president and co-founder of Fresno-based family-owned Paper Pulp & Film, Inc., a converter of printing and industrial papers, including raisin (drying) trays, is part of the team that organized the trip. Cloud said, “The UFW and the California ALRB are hoping the California Supreme Court will rule in their favor by forcing unionization on California farms and farm workers—the next flash point in the two-decade long battle between Gerawan Farming and the UFW.”

 

“People don’t understand that this is incrementalism,” Cloud said. “If the California Supreme Court rules against Gerawan, it literally puts every agricultural operation of any size in the state right in the “bulls-eye” for mandatory UFW unionization, and that is what is so concerning. And although people do not understand it, the laws are already all there; they just need to be formalized. So, yes, it is really scary.”

 

“The ALRB has power in these courts due to California legislators who have given the ALRB all these powers, but without checks or balances,” said Cloud. “So, you have an agency that basically plays god with people’s lives and there are no legitimate governmental organizations or courts looking at it, until now that [the forced unionization case] has come to the California Supreme Court.”

 

The upcoming California Supreme Court hearing follows the UFW’s appeal of a lower court ruling in favor of Gerawan on the same issue in 2015. “We are hoping that the Court goes by the law, and does not give [the ALRB and UFW] this kind of opportunity to really put all of our operations in California at risk for forced unionization and forced contracts,” Cloud said.

 

“The bus trip on Tuesday is to make a statement and not sit by silently. The hearing is at 9:00 A.M., and more than 300 people from the Valley are going. We are leaving at 3:30 AM, providing food for our passengers and protesting outside the Supreme Court. The UFW also will be rallying at the Supreme Court.

 

It remains uncertain if farm workers will be allowed inside the courtroom. Cloud said, “There has already been a lot of back and forth about not allowing any farm workers, or Silvia Lopez (the Gerawan farm worker spokesperson) into the courtroom. The attorneys are still fighting on that. But there will be a big protest, so to speak, outside.”

 

“There are public areas for us to be in, and we will be peaceful like all the other demonstrations that we have done,” Cloud said. “My hope is that everyone stays safe and we do not have extremists or rabble-rousers there who try to cause problems.”

 

Cloud said there is a glimmer of hope for the farming industry because the UFW lost to the lower courts. “But, you just don’t know. We are hoping these farmers, farm workers and protesters will bring attention to this issue,” he said.

 

Once the California Supreme Court hearing is completed, the court will have 90 days to make its ruling. “The reality is:  If agriculture does not get behind the effort against MMC now, and the California Supreme Court reverses the lower court’s decision, literally every farming organization in California could face unionization. And that is a scary thought,” said Cloud.

 

“Likewise, if the ruling goes against the UFW,” Cloud said, “I am sure the case will go to United States Supreme Court, which would certainly be a do-or-die point for agriculture.”


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