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Justice for Gerawan Farm Workers in the hands of Underhanded ALRB

One of the most significant labor relations fights in the country is currently taking place here in California.  Proceedings have turned ugly, with many questioning the legal tactics and scruples of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board.

As the United Farm Workers labor union and the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board have found themselves on the brink of extinction and future irrelevance, they have joined forces to reverse their misfortune by targeting one of the biggest non-union farming operations in the state. Should they succeed in unionizing the 5,000 total Gerawan Farming employees, it would more than double union membership, and certainly boost the ALRB’s status.

The UFW won an election to represent Gerawan Farming’s workers 23 years ago. But after only one bargaining session, the union disappeared and wasn’t heard from for more than 20 years.

In October 2012, the union reappeared to impose a contract on Gerawan Farming and its employees — without a vote of the workers.

But the workers don’t want the union.

The wrangling with the United Farm Workers Union began again in October of 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 for decades. Some of the workers then began a process for a vote to decertify the union.

Workers gathered signatures to petition for decertification election

The Gerawan Farming workers gathered thousands of signatures to petition a vote on the decertification, and eventually won an election – but only after the ALRB rejected their first two petitions, claiming many of the signatures were fraudulent.

Finally, an election to decertify the union was held on November 5, 2013. But On November 19, 2013, the results of the vote were held up by the ALRB, which claimed a large number of the ballots were ineligible.

ALRB Executive Director J. Antonio Barbosa also charged, “misconduct, that allegedly affected the outcome of the election.”

Legal wrangling

The interactions have gotten so contentious that on December 16 Gerawan filed a constitutional challenge against the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, with the United Farm Workers of America named 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. Gov. Gray Davis signed the MMC statute into law in 2002.

However, also on November 19, while Gerawan Farming was awaiting the results of the November 5 employee election to decertify the UFW, the UFW pulled a slippery move and requested a temporary restraining order to force Gerawan into collective bargaining anyway.

This attempt to force unionization on the Gerawan employees was helped along by the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, which ordered the collective bargaining, while the Board simultaneously has been sitting on the employee election results.

The UFW tried to get the state court to issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to force Gerawan to enter into mandatory mediation with the UFW.

But a Sacramento Superior Court Judge did not buy the UFW’s argument. The judge chastised the UFW for legal cherry-picking of previous cases, and told the UFW there was “no legal mechanism by which the UFW could seek to enforce the collective bargaining agreement” at that time.

The judge denied the UFW’s application.

Constitutional challenge

The interactions with the ALRB became so contentious that on December 16 Gerawan 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.

Despite the pending court of appeals case, many anticipate the ALRB will file in state superior court to have a judge force Gerawan to impose the contract on the employees.

If this happens, it would be a blatant power grab by the two ALRB employees leading the charge against Gerawan – ALRB Regional Director Silas Shawver, and ALRB attorney Sylvia Torres-Guillén.

Lawless power grab

ALRB Attorney Sylvia Torres-Guillén appears to be an “enforcement first, judgment later” strategist.  Even the ALRB has said that its Mandatory Mediation Order cannot be enforced until it is reduced to a judgment by a court of law.  The one and only way that can happen is for the Appellate Court, which is now reviewing the Order, to affirm the Order.  And that has not happened.

And, the ALRB didn’t ask for the contract to be “enforced”.  Up until last week, and as a matter of law, there was no quorum of Board members to authorize the filing. So it could not have given Ms. Torres-Guillen or Mr. Shawver permission to file the lawsuit.

From all appearances, Sylvia Torres-Guillén and Silas Shawver, are engaged in a lawless power grab, by claiming to invoke authority that they do not possess.

ALRB’s Silas Shawver investigating himself

Shawver is the ALRB Visalia regional director who personally dismissed the employees’ petition to decertify three times. The last two times Shawver dismissed the Gerawan employees’ petition, the ALRB board overruled him.

Ironically, (or perhaps not), now Shawver is the same person who is in charge of investigating UFW’s allegations that Gerawan coerced its employees into wanting to decertify UFW.

What this boils down to is Silas Shawver is investigating himself, and whether he was right for having dismissed the petitions three times. The likelihood that Shawver will find that he was wrong and that indeed the employees should have their ballots counted, is highly unlikely.

The case is a sham; Is the ALRB?

The entire situation is a mockery of the jurisprudence system, as well as the state’s legitimate labor relations procedures.

On the surface it appears there is a valid investigation going on when in fact, most everyone involved knows that the investigation was over before it began, and Shawver will likely rule against the Gerawan farm workers.

It is also anticipated that Shawver will issue some highly charged report accusing Gerawan Farming of coercing employees, and interfering with the ALRB.

Then, ALRB attorney Sylvia Torres-Guillén will attempt to prosecute Gerawan as an evil employer, and perhaps attempt to make an example of the company, should any other large farming company’s workers have silly notions of decertifying the UFW.

It appears as if Shawver’s and Torres-Guillén’s roles are to make sure the ballots are never counted.

Where justice will be found

The only place real constitutional justice will be found is in the counting of the ballots of the Gerawan employees’ decertification election.

The ALRB should make the counting of the ballots its first priority, and in fact, has a legal obligation to complete this. Because if the UFW is decertified in this election, the November 19 ALRB order forcing Gerawan Farming into mandatory mediation and collective bargaining is void.

The members of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board know this order would be void. And now, so should every voter in the state of California.

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