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!”

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.