Gerawan Farming v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board

California unconstitutionally imposes mandatory arbitration for labor contracts in the agricultural sector

Cases > Freedom of Speech and Association > Gerawan Farming v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board
Lost: The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review case.
Case Court: California Supreme Court

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.

The general rule for labor arbitration between private employers and employees is that the state can force you to negotiate, but it can’t force you to accept any particular terms. In California, however, agricultural employers can be compelled, at the behest of a disgruntled union, to submit to a private mediator who in turn has the power to impose a collective bargaining “agreement” on the employer. The statute directs the mediator’s attention to a number of factors to consider in drafting the agreement, but does not provide a goal to be reached or a standard to guide the use and applications of the factors. This is the only such compulsory-bargaining law in the country.

A California court of appeal ruled last year that this system – the so-called Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation Process – is unconstitutional because it treats similarly situated employers differently, and because it delegates too much legislative power to private-party mediators. For example, the mediator has no backstop to the terms he may impose; his decision is not subject to de novo review; his assembling of the record is not subject to the Evidence Code; and his decisions take effect without any lengthy notice period. The California Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. PLF’s amicus brief addresses both constitutional issues, and makes the larger policy point that the Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation Process thwarts basic democratic principles of public deliberation and accountability.

The decision from the United States Supreme Court was unfavorable, in that the Petition for a Writ of Certiorari was denied.

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What’s at stake?

  • The case pits the rights of employers and employees to make agreements framed by their independent choice, against a state-mandated process that empowers an outside mediator to dictate the terms and conditions that regulate the employer-employee relationship.
  • The compulsory agreement scheme creates an unfair system whereby agricultural employers are subject to irrational and arbitrary labor regulation. Through its unchecked grant of legislative power to private mediators, the statute threatens fundamental constitutional values of separation of powers and accountability.

Case Timeline

May 16, 2016
April 01, 2016

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