California’s growers fight government-sanctioned property invasions
U.S. Supreme Court to hear PLF’s challenge to legalized union trespassing
Mike Fahner is a farmer and businessman by trade, but a fighter and survivor by nature.
So, when a government regulation teed up trespassers and turmoil for his business and workforce, Mike fought back with a critical property rights case heading to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The son of potato farmers, Mike founded Cedar Point Nursery in the late 1990s in Butte County, California, growing “mother” strawberry plants. The farm today is one of the nation’s biggest strawberry nurseries, an achievement Mike credits to a dedicated workforce.
“It’s pretty simple,” he explains. “We treat everyone with respect. We pay a fair, competitive wage, generous benefits, and do our best to provide an enjoyable, safe work environment and a mentality we’re all here to thrive.”
Cedar Point’s success hinges on six weeks in the fall—a short harvest season with long workdays during which 400 seasonal workers join 100 full-time employees in trim sheds to prepare plants for shipment across the country.
Mike’s team is normally prepared for a demanding harvest time crunch. But one morning in 2015, employees were horror- struck when two dozen strangers burst through the doors and, with bullhorns and waving flags, brought their work to a halt.
The United Farm Workers Union sent the intruders to convince workers they were underpaid and mistreated and thus must strike and unionize.
Mike and his employees never considered a union—it was never needed. And they were shocked anyone would storm private property to ambush unsuspecting workers. “Especially a business like ours. We have six weeks to not only harvest our crop, but we process it, we pack it, we cool it, and we ship it,” Mike says. “These people disrupted our process with absolutely no forewarning. This was an attack of monumental proportions.”
As alarmed as Mike was at the disruption, he was astonished to learn union activists could return—repeatedly— and he must let them in under the state’s Union Access Regulation. The rule forces farming companies to allow union recruiters onto their private property and justifies the trespassing by limiting intrusions to three hours a day, 120 days a year.
The California Agricultural Labor Relations Board devised the rule in 1975, when there were no cell phones or internet, few media out- lets, and seasonal farm workers often lived on employers’ land.
Today’s workers, however, live off-site. With the internet, cell phones, and media that includes hundreds of Spanish-speaking radio stations, they’re just as accessible as other union targets such as teachers or auto workers. Nevertheless, the Board insists its rule is vital to union recruitment.
“I was furious that this could take place legally, that I had to comply, and that I had no choice,” Mike says. “It’s wrong.”
It is wrong. And unconstitutional. Property owners have a fundamental right to exclude people from their property. Unions are no exception. And government can’t make regulations violating that right, even if the regulations include time limits.
Mike decided to fight back.
We worked hard and built this business from the ground up. So have a lot of our employees. It’s their pride and joy as much as mine,” he says. “For that to be threatened that way is a crime, period.”
Represented by PLF free of charge, Cedar Point and Fresno-based Fowler Packing Company sued to overturn the rule. They lost in federal district court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but Mike and his fellow growers pressed on and the remarkable happened.
When the full appellate court denied a rehearing, eight judges dissented—the most who can dissent in any circuit court—with a sharp rebuke from Judge Sandra S. Ikuta: “[The Ninth Circuit] should have taken this case en banc so that the Supreme Court will not have to correct us again.”
On that strongest of cues, and growing support from liberty- minded allies, PLF petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. The Justices granted the request on November 13.
“Time limits are no substitute for just compensation, and government can’t use a stopwatch to avoid its constitutional obligations,” PLF senior attorney Joshua P. Thompson explains. “We’re pleased the Supreme Court recognizes the significant, nationwide consequences of this case, and we look forward to again defending individual liberty and property rights at the highest court in the land.”
Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid extends PLF’s streak to 15 cases litigated before the Supreme Court, the seventh property takings case. A win would vindicate all Americans’ right to decide who can—and cannot—enter their private property. It would also be PLF’s 13th victory at the Court, a true testament to PLF’s relentless pursuit of freedom.