September 27, 2018

At Gerawan Farming, UFW Finally Gets the Boot

By Erin Wilcox Attorney

After five long years, the ballots from a 2013 election on whether to oust the United Farm Workers union (UFW) from Gerawan Farming, Inc. have finally been counted. The outcome was brutally clear: UFW lost the election 1,098 to 197, a margin of 5:1.

UFW came to Gerawan Farming in 1990, but almost immediately abandoned its members and quit showing up for bargaining meetings. In 2012 the union made a sudden reappearance—to demand that the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) impose a collective bargaining agreement on Gerawan and the employees it had ignored for over two decades. The ALRB did just that, forcing Gerawan and its workers to submit to a collective bargaining agreement that made life worse for the company and the employees—worse for everyone except UFW.

Gerawan’s employees, not thrilled at how UFW had treated them, participated in a decertification election in 2013 to decide whether to remove UFW as their union. Almost 1,300 workers voted, but the ALRB refused to count a single ballot.  After years of court battles and worker protests, the California Supreme Court recently ordered the ALRB to unseal the ballot box and tally the votes.

Meanwhile, Gerawan has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the bizarre California law which imposed the unjust collective bargaining agreement that neither Gerawan nor its employees agreed to.

PLF, representing a coalition of similarly concerned organizations, filed a friend of the court brief urging the Supreme Court to take Gerawan’s case. The Supreme Court considered Gerawan’s request earlier this week, and we will soon know whether Gerawan will get to make its case to the highest court in the land.

In the meantime, though, Gerawan and its employees have much to celebrate. After five years of being unfairly silenced, the employees’ voices have finally been heard. Their message could not have been clearer.

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Gerawan Farming v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board

Gerawan Farming is a family-owned company that grows grapes and stone fruit in the San Joaquin Valley. Unique in the nation, a California statute compels agricultural employers and their employees’ unions to assent to collective bargaining agreements. Rather than being negotiated at arm’s length, these agreements’ terms are dictated to the parties by a “mediator” who has nearly unlimited discretion to compel the parties’ assent to whatever terms the mediator wishes. A California appellate court struck down this scheme that imposed an unwanted “agreement” on Gerawan, but the California Supreme Court granted review. Representing an array of agricultural and constitutional liberty groups, PLF filed an amicus brief arguing that this compulsory regime is unconstitutional.

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