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Katy Grimes

Gerawan Farming files constitutional challenge against ALRB

Gerawan Farming is fed up.

On Dec. 16, the Gerawan Farming company filed a constitutional challenge against the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, with the United Farm Workers of America as a “Real Party of Interest.” It was filed with the California Court of Appeal, Fifth District in Fresno, against the ALRB’s invocation of the California’s Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation Statute. The statute was signed into law by Gov. Gray Davis in 2002.

This was part of wrangling with the United Farm Workers Union that began in Oct. 2012, when the union insisted that a collective bargaining agreement covering Gerawan workers be reactivated — even though there had been no union involvement with the workers since 1995. Some of the workers then began a process for a vote to decertify the union.

A vote on the decertification was held on Nov. 5, 2013. But On Nov. 19, 2013, the results of the vote were held up by the ALRB, which claimed a large number of the ballots were ineligible. In an email to CalWatchDog.com, ALRB Executive Director J.Antonio Barbosa also charged “misconduct, that allegedly affected the outcome of the election.”

The ALRB chose an arbitrator to decide the matter, leading to Gerawan’s court filing.

Pleading

In its court pleading, Gerawan charged:

“MMC is a compulsory arbitration process under which a mediator acting as an arbitrator dictates the terms of a CBA [collective bargaining agreement] between a grower and a union. The MMC Statute authorizes the Board to adopt the mediator’s report as a final order. The employer has no right to opt-out of this process. The employees have no right to ratify or reject the ‘contract’ imposed upon them, which here would require them to pay union dues or fees or lose their jobs. 

“The MMC Statute empowers one man – here, labor mediator Matthew Goldberg – to write a complex and massive ‘agreement’ between two private parties that would let it, have the force of law….

“This procedure has no counterpart under federal labor law, which expressly forbids the imposition of contractual terms or concessions upon a private employer or a labor organization.”

The process now: The Court of Appeal will decide whether the mediator, Goldberg, can proceed with writing the agreement. The ALRB is expected soon to file its response to the Gerawan pleading.

UFW website, capture taken Dec. 30, 2013 at 12.42 pm

UFW defense

The UFW has not yet responded in court to the Gerawan pleading. But it defended its position on Dec. 17 on its website. It claimed the workers were with the union, although only the final tally of the Nov. 5 could determine if that was the case. The union wrote (boldface in original):

“On Tuesday, Dec. 17, Gerawan workers tried to deliver a giant Christmas card and our petition with more than 16,000 signatures from UFW supporters like yourself. Both of these asked Gerawan to implement the workers’ contract so workers could have Christmas Day as a paid holiday as the new contract requires. Gerawan’s response…They locked the door and did not even acknowledge they were there. What a Grinch!

“It’s time for California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board to follow the law and force Gerawan to implement the workers’ contract NOW. How long will they allow Gerawan to manipulate the law?! 

“The state’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board ordered the three-year contract into immediate effect on November 19, 2013, but Gerawan has refused to implement it. They are denying their workers the right to finally enjoy the benefits of union representation and hard fought improvements at their workplace. Besides including substantial wage increases, additional paid holidays — such as Christmas Day, and other worker protections, the contract also provides retroactive pay for some of these benefits.”

However, Gerawan Farming said Christmas Day is a paid holiday for the workers.

Overall dispute with the ALRB

Gerawan’s overall argument is that the mediator cannot order a contract to be implemented until the finally tally is made for the Nov. 5 on whether to keep the union.

The UFW has filed 32 objections with the ALRB over the vote, Gerawan has filed seven objections, and the workers have filed 13 objections. “The Board is in the process of determining which of the objections should be set for a hearing, and a Board Decision and Order on the objections will issue soon,” Barbosa with the ALRB told CalWatchDog.com “The hearing on objections could either lead to the setting aside of the election or certification of the election results by the ALRB.”

Barbosa said a number of unfair labor practice charges relating to the election have been filed with the Visalia ALRB Regional Office. He said some of the matters may be resolved in a consolidated hearing with the election objections, but it is impossible to predict how long these processes will take.

“The UFW should not be rewarded for abandoning the workers for the last 20 years,” said company President Dan Gerawan of the overall situation “The UFW can claim no credit for the success of our workers, who are paid the highest wages in our industry. We supported the election” of the workers on Nov. 5. “The UFW opposed the election. The UFW hasn’t stood for an election at Gerawan since 1990. For the better part of the last 20 years, the UFW has been a no show union at our farm. After nearly a quarter-century, it’s time to let our workers — not the Board — decide what is in their best interests.”

Under the terms of the ALRB-ordered contract, the UFW would be given the right to demand that Gerawan fire workers who refuse to pay union dues or fees to the UFW. “We don’t think that it is right, fair, or consistent with the purposes of consensual collective bargaining in one of our state’s most important industries to allow an absentee union to dictate whether our employees can keep their jobs,” Gerawan said.

The UFW website cited workers that support the union (boldface in original):

“‘We could use this extra money they owe us in delayed benefits to have an even happier holiday season. Unfortunately, Gerawan Farming continues to deny us that right,’ said Guadalupe Martinez. ‘This has caused us — Gerawan workers — the inability to benefit from a union contract, adding much stress and frustration to us and our families this holiday season.’

“Gerawan worker Fidel Venegas added, ‘Honestly they did not receive us the way they should have. They hid inside. We simply want the workers’ rights to be valued and for them to no longer continue stepping on us as they are doing. I am one of those who right now is being discriminated against. I feel very injured and abandoned. The company does not want to be held accountable and that’s not fair.’

“Stand up for the Gerawan workers today and tell the ALRB to quit allowing Gerawan to be a Grinch. The ALRB should immediately order them to implement the contract during the appeal process. Send your email today.”

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