September 8, 2016

Fighting back against wrong-headed arbitration

By Damien M. Schiff Senior Attorney

Earlier this week, a variety of Central Valley papers picked up an oped written by former PLF Vice President David Stirling and me explaining the importance to California’s employers and employees of Gerawan Farming v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board, a case currently pending in the California Supreme Court.  The litigation focuses on California’s euphemistically (and oxymoronically) monikered “Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation Process”—effectively, a binding interest arbitration regime.  According to this regime, if an agricultural employer cannot come to a mutually agreeable employment contract with its employees’ union, the state will force that employer into a “mediation session,” led by a private arbitrator, who is given the power to impose essentially any contract terms he or she wishes on the non-consenting employer (and union, for that matter).  Gerawan Farming successfully challenged this liberty-threatening regime in the court of appeal, after which the state supreme court agreed to hear the matter.  Earlier this year, we filed an amicus brief in support of Gerawan, arguing that the regime violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection, as well as the fundamental principle of separation of powers.  A hearing in the supreme court has not yet been scheduled.

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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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