FRESNO and TULARE, CA; February 10, 2016: California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) is violating the constitutional property rights of the state’s agricultural landowners by forcing them to allow union activists onto their property for union organizing and recruitment campaigns.
So contends a federal lawsuit filed today by attorneys with Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), the leading legal watchdog organization that litigates for limited government and property rights throughout California and across the country. PLF represents Cedar Point Nursery in the Siskiyou County town of Dorris, and Fowler Packing Co. in Fresno.
At issue is an ALRB regulation that promotes trespassing by purporting to grant a “right of access by union organizers to the premises of an agricultural employer for the purpose of meeting and talking with employees and soliciting their support . . . .” This trespass regulation — Cal. Code Regs. tit. 8, § 20900(e) — violates owners’ Fifth Amendment right against government-imposed takings, a right that includes the freedom to exclude trespassers; and their Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable, government-sanctioned intrusions, searches and seizures.
Decades old, the trespass regulation survived a challenge at the state Supreme Court in 1976, but has never been challenged in federal court as a violation of fundamental property rights protected by the U.S. Constitution. Cedar Point Nursery and Fowler Packing have turned to the federal courts for help because they have had their operations disrupted in recent months by activists from the United Farm Workers (UFW) who trespassed, or attempted to trespass, citing ALRB’s unconstitutional trespass regulation as their “justification.”
“This case is about basic protections for everyone who owns property,” said PLF Principal Attorney Joshua P. Thompson. “Nothing is more fundamental for any property owner than being able to keep trespassers out. Bureaucrats can’t cancel that right — especially not as a favor to organized labor.
“Government may not give out permission slips to unions, to trespass on private property,” added Thompson. “When government arm-twists an owner into allowing people onto his property against his will, that land, or at least an easement across it, is being commandeered for a government agenda. And government seizure of private property, without compensation, is strictly forbidden by the Fifth Amendment and its ban on takings.
“There are plenty of sites in local communities where unions could make their case to agricultural employees,” Thompson continued. “But the union activists often seem more interested in forcing themselves onto private property and fomenting conflict. Bureaucrats have no business promoting this disruption by stripping property owners of their fundamental rights.”
PLF is asking the federal courts to affirm that ALRB’s trespass regulation violates the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs, and enjoin ALRB from enforcing it against them.
Located in Dorris, family-owned Cedar Point Nursery raises strawberry plants for producers both statewide and nationally. It employs more than 400 seasonal and about 100 year-round workers.
Cedar Point’s employees have never considered forming a union. Consequently when the UFW staged its early morning strike it took everyone by surprise. The disruptive scene was staged on Cedar Point’s property during its six-week strawberry plant harvest last year. Local news outlets reported that the union claimed to be protesting working conditions at the nursery, but management — and employees — rejected those allegations. As the Klamath Falls Herald & News reported, one employee — Jesus Mendoza — said “the demonstration was ‘just a big joke’ and said, after working 15 seasons at the nursery, he sees his co-workers as committed rather than exploited by their employers. ‘We haven’t had any problems out here,’ he said. ‘We’re just focused on trying to do our jobs.’”
“We take pride in offering a clean, safe work environment, and clean, safe housing, at a pay grade that meets or exceeds the market,” said Mike Fahner, Cedar Point’s owner and CEO. “Our mindset has always been to treat all our employees with respect, and we get the same respect in return. We promote from within and reward dedication and hard work. As a consequence, employees stick with us. The tenure on our core group of 50 to 60 people is no less than 10 years.
“When the UFW came on our property without warning or permission, you might as well call what happened an ambush,” said Fahner, a second generation Northern California farmer who founded Cedar Point 15 years ago. “This is the first time we experienced anything like this and it makes me feel very vulnerable as a business person. When people with their own agenda can brazenly enter your facilities and cause chaos and work stoppage, it ought to be illegal, it’s certainly unconstitutional. If this were to happen in any other industry, or in any other state, the trespassers would be arrested. But in California, agricultural property owners are being denied their constitutional rights to be protected from these kinds of invasions.
“We don’t deny our employees’ free speech,” he noted. “Anybody who is not satisfied with something that’s going on, we’re here to discuss it. But for union activists to be able to enter a private place of business, and create surprise and disruption, is unconstitutional. The law that targets agricultural businesses for trespassing has to be challenged, so along with PLF we’re taking on that task.
“For a company of our size, challenging the government by ourselves would be impossible,” he noted. “We’re grateful for PLF’s help, and if what we’re doing — believing in what is right — helps others, it’s worth the fight all the more.”
Fowler Packing Co., headquartered in Fresno, is one of the largest shippers in the fresh produce business, handling 15 million boxes of citrus, and five million boxes of table grapes, each year. Because Fowler has acted to defend its property rights by prohibiting union organizers from trespassing on its property, the United Farm Workers filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the ALRB last year. (Although the complaint has since been withdrawn, the mere fact of its filing caused disruption for Fowler’s operations. It also shows the union’s determination to trespass onto Fowler’s property, with the unconstitutional trespass regulation as its “justification.”)
Fowler employs more than 2,000 people at its facility in Fresno. They do not live on the premises and are fully accessible to the union when they are not at work.
“The company takes its social responsibilities seriously,” said Joshua Thompson. “For instance, a medical clinic serves employees and their families without charge.” Every employee receives a wallet-sized card with a “hotline” number and an explanation of its purpose, which is to provide an anonymous means of reporting any sign of abuse, misconduct, harassment, safety concern, or any other matter that may be concerning to employees. This phone line goes directly to the H.R. Director’s office and is checked daily for any missed calls or messages.
About Pacific Legal Foundation
Donor-supported Pacific Legal Foundation is a watchdog organization that litigates nationwide for limited government, property rights, individual rights, and free enterprise. PLF represents all clients without charge.
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