The Agriculture Labor Relations Board (ALRB), initially created by the Agricultural Relations Act, is a group designed to adhere to the well-being of farm workers. However, Michael Saqui, principal at the Saqui Law Group, carries a strong opinion in regards to this group. Saqui is an employer’s attorney on wage and hour, wrongful termination, labor relations, and employment litigation, just to name a few.
According to Saqui, “The ALRB has been set up for and by the United Farm Workers since its inception, and it continues more open today. In fact, they do less hiding of their bias than they have ever before … They’re emboldened by the fact that they are so unfair, and they almost dare you like most in the agricultural industry.”
Initially, the history of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act involved a great amount of grower input. When the UFW or any other farm union files a petition for representation, the election used to occur within seven days; however, producers pushed that it be changed to 48 hours.
“That was something proposed by the growers because they didn’t want crops rotting in the fields,” Saqui said.
“I practice before [ALRB] every week, and it’s surprising that farmers don’t sit on the board as they should.”
Attorney Michael Saqui Says UFW is Social Reform Movement
By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor
Michael Saqui, is a principal with the Saqui Law Group, based in Roseville and Salinas, and he recently shared some opinions about the UFW with California Ag Today.
“They’re not a union, in my opinion. I have been fighting the UFW my whole career,” he said.
Saqui Law Group handles wage an hour, labor relations, employment litigation, and other disciplines for the agricultural industry. He said UFW is far from being a union.
“They are not an organized union; they’re a social reform movement, plain and simple,” Saqui said.
“They’re a political action committee that raises money from the limousine liberals,” he said.
Saqui said that the millions that are contributed to the organization do not get back to the workers.
“They run very much like a criminal organization. The way they funnel and shield money and not much gets back to the farm worker.”
The UFW thinks they have been successful at what is called the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI), where they have gotten retail companies to sign onto a code of conduct.
“These metrics that they have put together for compliance in all areas, including wage an hour, treatment, and respect are already codified in California state law to make large companies and other folks feel good,” he said.
Saqui has had no input on the EFI which they point to as a success.
“They can’t organize workers and when they do organize workers, history has shown that they have been absolutely inept at getting contracts,” Saqui said.
Major Farm Operations With UFW Contracts Have Shut Down
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor
Farms operations shutting down due to labor unions and UFW contracts is something that is suspected, but businesses do not outright admit it, said Robert Roy, President/General Counsel at the Ventura County Agricultural Association based out of Camarillo.
“Last year, you had the closure of all of the strawberry operations for Dole,” Roy said. “They shut down all of the strawberry operations in Ventura and Santa Maria and Watsonville, so that was at one time very large UFW-contracted operations. They had over 1,500 workers since the mid-1990s.”
Roy explained that workers see no reason to pay three percent of their wages for many of the things that farmers are now providing that maybe they didn’t previously when UFW was around.
“Farmers have basically caught up with many of these UFW contracts, and selling the union to the workers is a much more difficult proposition, especially when they have to pay three percent of their wages,” he said.
Roy says that most Supreme Court decisions have been pro-worker as of recently, including a recent case involving a Starbucks employee.
“We have been watching some of their decisions over the last 12 months, and they’re very nuanced decisions dealing with wage and hour issues and rounding practices,” Roy said. “They recently issued a decision on a class action case where a Starbucks employee was owed $112 because after he clocked out, he would lock the door, and do other tasks. The California Supreme Court came back and said, ‘well, you know, $112 to some people is a week of groceries. He’s owed it.’ So the California Supreme Court is very pro-worker.”
TODAY, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) officially certified that a majority of the valid ballots from the November 5, 2013, election that were counted five years later in Fresno on September 18 were cast as “No Union.” In addition, the ALRB concluded that “the United Farm Workers of America thereby lost its prior status as the exclusive representative of the employees for the purpose of collective bargaining.”
Silvia Lopez, a Gerawan employee at the time, filed the petition on October 25, 2013, to decertify the UFW as the bargaining representative of the agricultural employees of Gerawan Farming, Inc., which led to the sanctioned decertification election a few weeks later. Today, Lopez commented, “I cannot believe what just happened today. The ALRB certified our votes and results. I am speechless and beyond excited and happy because justice was finally done.”
Said attorney Anthony Raimondo, “This is a great day for farm workers all across the state of California who can finally celebrate the fact that they wll be the ones who decide their future, not a government agency or a politically connected union. The workers will rest easy tonight knowing that their wages belong to them and will not be taken from them by the United Farm Workers union.”
“We are grateful that the ALRB has recognized the undeniable truth of the workers’ will as expressed in the vote,” Raimondo continued, “and relieved that the agency has decided to abandon its alliance with the UFW and work for the rights of California farmworkers rather than the financial health of a failing union.”
Jesse Rojas, spokesperson for Pick Justice, stated, “Pick Justice was started because of the courage, strength and determination of thousands of farmworkers who simply wanted the right to choose and to be treated equally like every other worker in the state and country. We are thankful that the ALRB finally did the right thing after 5 years of suppressing workers’ rights. Today is a historic and huge victory for the Gerawan farmworkers. Pick Justice is just getting started and will continue to advocate for what is right.”
Link: To review the ALRB Certification of the November 2013 Election to Decertify UFW issued TODAY, September 27, 2109, click on 44 ALRB No. 10.
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
ALRB Board Agent is running the election
UFW voter observer
On stage, seated for observation and simultaneous tallying
Gerawan farm employee, Angel Lopez.
On stage, seated for observation and simultaneous tallying
ALRB voter observers
On stage, standing for observation
Gerawan farm employee
On stage, standing for observation
On stage, standing for observation in Black Vests with ALRB patches
TOTAL ON STAGE
Silvia Lopez, Jessie Rojas (Pick Justice), Gerawan employees, people in red UFW t-shirts,; media.
Lawyers: Tony Raimondo, Ron Barsamian
Eduardo Blanco, ALRB
Assmb. Jim Patterson, Shannon Dee Grove (Kern County)
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
Cervantes removed ballots in yellow envelopes designating them as “challenged ballots.”
Silvia said even if there are 300 Challenged ballots, “We’ll be OK.”
Challenged ballots were identified during the Nov. 2013 election under the following circumstances:
Farm employees were told to bring a paystub.
Upon arrival, voters picked at random, were asked to show a California ID as well.
If they lacked a second ID, CA ID, their votes were sealed in yellow envelopes designated as challenged ballots.
Many voters told Silvia their vote was challenged. They were upset, angry and intimidated.
TOTAL Contested ballots 634
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
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
Counted in bunches of 50 2
Read “No Union” in Spanish
Cervantes made announcements in English, then Spanish
Historic Day Following Five Years of Vote Count Suppression
News Release Edited By Patrick Cavanaugh
Today, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board announced that it will count the votes of Gerawan Farms workers after five years of illegally refusing to tally the ballots.
Determined to avoid having union dues taken from their wages by a union that had abandoned the workers for almost two decades, Silvia Lopez and the Gerawan Farms employees courageously organized themselves in opposition to forced union membership. In November of 2013, thousands of Gerawan Farms employees voted on whether or not they would be represented by the United Farm Workers (UFW) in the largest worker election in ALRB history.
For five long years, the ALRB has suppressed the vote by refusing to count the ballots while the workers fought to vindicate their civil rights. The Fifth District Court of Appeal in Fresno ruled in May that the suppression of the vote violated the workers’ statutory and Constitutional rights, and ordered the votes counted. Only after a dismissal of all appeals by the California Supreme Court did the government finally agree to count the ballots.
At 8:30 am on September 18, 2018, the ballots will be removed from the ALRB safe for inspection by the parties, and transportation to Fresno.
The ballots will be counted at 2550 Mariposa Mall, Room 1036 in Fresno at approximately 10:00 am. This tally represents a victory for farmworker rights over a union and a government agency that has tried to silence them.
Legal Explanation of Anecdotal Farm Closure Reports
By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor
Scores of farms in California have gone out of businesses over the last four decades, and many suspect that UFW pressure was to blame for farm closures. But there is no definitive reported evidence that this has happened.
“There are no specific facts that you can cite or any empirical evidence you will find that growers who closed down their businesses did so because of the UFW,” responded Robert Roy, president/general counsel for the Camarillo-based Ventura County Agricultural Association, when asked about such verbal reports.
Roy explained that it is not illegal for a business to claim it shut down, such as a farm closure, due to a union, according to a recent Supreme Court of the United States decision.
“But people just don’t talk about that in general,” he clarified.
“Generally, if someone’s been under a UFW or other union contract for a number of years, you see the cost of that contract makes them very noncompetitive with other non-union employers, both in-state and in other states,” Roy said. “In the past, UFW contracts had considerably more costly items in their employment packages, usually starting with higher wages, plus [non-wage] costs such as paid vacation, paid holidays, a union pension plan, and a union medical plan. So cumulatively, as the years go by, these costs are a pretty heavy hit for a lot of these employers.”
“Such costs are probably the only thing you can look to determine whether a farm went out of business because of the union,” he explained. “Of course, this is anecdotal evidence because you are not going to find people out there who will tell you directly they went out of work specifically to avoid the union.”
Roy said the public would not encounter those types of situations in which a business owner will assert the UFW caused their farm closure.
“I would think if a business had to stop operating,” Roy said, “maybe the owner of the business might put out a statement that explains what caused the farm closure. But we did not see that either.”
“When I first came here to Ventura County as a young attorney back in 1977,” Roy recalled, “there were somewhere between 30 to 40 UFW contracts in this area. Now there is only one—Muranaka Farms,” the largest U.S. grower and shipper of bunched green onions, according to their website. I think they have a very small workforce of perhaps 50 people here in Moorpark, California. I believe the rest of their operation is in Mexico, but I do not know if that operation is covered under the UFW contract.”
Roy continued, “Then last year, you had the closure of all of the strawberry operations for Dole Food Co. They shut down all of their strawberry operations in Ventura, Santa Maria and Watsonville. At one time, they had a very large UFW contract with over 1500 workers since the mid-1990s.”
“It is a tough deal for a union to convince workers to pay three percent of their wages in dues,” Roy said, “for many of the benefits that farmers now provide. I think farmers have basically caught up with many of the provisions covered in these UFW contracts. So, selling the union to the workers is a much more difficult proposition, especially when they have to pay three percent of their wages.”
Ventura County Agricultural Association is a business trade association that concentrates on providing services to agricultural employers, packing sheds, and labor contractors in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties since 1970. The organization’s services include training, dealing with union matters such as grievances and arbitrations, representing members in administrative and court proceedings, and creating handbooks and policies. The Association keeps its members up-to-date on any federal, state or local laws that affect their operations.
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 UFWbroke the lawon theUFW’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.
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.”