ALRB forcing unionization on farm workers

ALRB forcing unionization on farm workers

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UPDATE: It was reported the Agricultural Labor Relations Board has reversed its Monday decision, which would have blocked the Gerawan farm workers’ second attempt to hold an election to determine if the United Farm Workers of America should represent them. The ALRB will now process and count the new petition signatures. If 1,500 signatures are validated, an election could be held by the end of this week.

SACRAMENTO — Thousands of farm workers in the Central Valley object to unionization under a collective bargaining agreement with the United Farm Workers. But they’re being forced into the agreement anyway.

On Monday, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board turned down the farm workers’ petitions, delivered last Friday, to decertify the UFW. The farm workers also will not be allowed a vote on union representation, despite an ALRB rule which stipulates, “Under the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, farm workers have the right to choose whether or not they wish to be represented by a union by voting in a secret ballot election.”

Gov. Jerry Brown appointed all the current ALRB members. And a former UFW lobbyist, Martha Guzman Aceves, was appointed by Brown as his deputy legislative secretary for agriculture, environment and natural resources, working in Brown’s Capitol office. As I detailed in an Oct. 14 story, Guzman-Aceves has a long history of working for the UFW and has close ties to other pro-UFW organizations. Yet Brown delegated to her dealing with the pleas of the rebel farm workers. Monday’s petition rejection was the second time the ALRB rejected a petition by the farm workers. The first time was on Sept. 19.

Questions have been raised about the relationship between the ALRB, a government agency, and the UFW. During an August 21, 2013 court proceeding, Judge Jeffrey Y. Hamilton said, “So the Court is very suspect of, one, the ALRB’s position here.  It almost seems like it’s in cahoots.  And the Court finds it very troubling that the ALRB is taking such a position, especially sitting in a prosecutorial role.” (See copies of excerpts of the court transcript, below.)

mail-6The new Cesar Chavez

Because of her relentless championing of the rights of farm workers, Silvia Lopez has been called the new Cesar Chavez. Ironically, she is fighting against the union Chavez co-founded; but which has fallen far from his lofty ideals, according to a 2012 article in The Nation, a liberal magazine, “Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers: What Went Wrong?”

Lopez, a long-time farm worker with Gerawan Farming, said the ALRB claimed the thousands of signatures she gathered on the first petition were forged. But Lopez (pictured nearby in front of the governor’s office) said she personally collected nearly all of the 2,000 signatures.

I spent several hours recently with Lopez. She is serious and thoughtful. She said she just wants the workers to be able to continue to work at Gerawan Farming under the optimum conditions they currently enjoy — without interference from the UFW.

Cesar Chavez book coverNew signatures, new petition

When Lopez delivered another 3,000 all-new signatures to the ALRB last Friday, she demanded an election before a collective bargaining agreement with the UFW is imposed on them. According to her attorneys, despite Lopez’s arrival at the Visalia ALRB offices at 1:00 p.m., the ALRB  claimed she was too late.

“We are very sad that our government is working against us,” said Lopez in a statement following the ALRB decision Monday.  “We just want the right to vote.”

This time, rather than claiming the new 3,000 signatures were forged, the ALRB claimed to have taken action on the terms of a collective bargaining agreement on Friday, three days before she filed her petition, according to Lopez’s attorneys.

Workers want to be non-union

Farm employees from Gerawan Farming have been trying to get the UFW out of their workplace since October 2012. At that time the union, desperate for new members, reappeared out of the blue after doing nothing since 1990, to impose a contract on Gerawan Farming and its 3,000-5,000 employees.

This incited the workers, who describe their working conditions as optimum. Gerawan farming  pays high wages and benefits, including retirement, vacation pay and even the tuition for the workers’ children at the local Catholic St. La Salle School.

“Once a contract is imposed on our workers, it will double or even triple the size of the UFW’s current membership,” Dan Gerawan told me; he’s the president of Gerawan Farming, a family-owned business in Reedley which employs more than 5,000 farm workers. “So, more than half of the UFW’s membership will never have been given the opportunity to express whether they even want the UFW to represent them.

“And with perpetual mediation being a possibility under SB25, my employees may never have that opportunity to vote, yet will have to pay 3 percent of their wages [as union dues] or lose their jobs.”

SB 25 is by state Senate President Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. It would allow the UFW to force farm companies into mediation at any time. It did not become law this year, but could come back next year.

Legal issues

Lopez’s attorneys are challenging the suspected timing of the ALRB’s latest action, and claim the new contract is not final because it is being remanded to an arbitrator before a final order can be adopted.

“There is no final contract barring this election from taking place,” said Paul Bauer, an attorney representing Lopez.  “The ALRB should follow the clear policy and legislative intent of the Agriculture Labor Relations Act, which is free choice, and allow the workers the chance to vote.”

The denial of the petition and the approval of a collective bargaining agreements would mean that the farm workers likely cannot hold an election for another two years.

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