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Katy Grimes

On Labor Day, CA Democrats Up To Old Labor Abuses With Gerawan Workers

The historic abuse of power the Agricultural Labor Relations Board has exerted over family-owned Gerawan Farming and its thousands of workers is illegal. Gerawan’s farm workers do not want union control of their workplace or work lives, but have been targeted by the United Farm Workers labor union and the ALRB since 2012 for takeover.

In May, the Court of Appeals ordered the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board to count the workers’ decertification votes from a 2013 election, but the agency has ignored the order, and still wants to destroy the ballots and instead force a non-negotiated “contract” on the workers.

The workers have appealed to the legislative Latino Caucus, individual legislators, Governor Jerry Brown, and the California Supreme Court. Despite awaiting legal remedies, the Legislature is again doing the bidding of the United Farm Workers in an end run.

Who-counts-the-votes

AB 2751 by Assemblyman Marc Stone (D-Monterey), undoes current law and contradicts the original purpose of the 2003 mandatory mediation provision by empowering the ALRB to force successor contracts by mandatory mediation. This is a contradiction of its original intent which was to set a mechanism in place to forge a bargaining relationship on the first contract only.

AB 2751 is a rewrite of AB 561  (by former Democrat Assemblywoman Nora Campos, 2015), which would have granted the ALRB general counsel “primary authority with respect to the calculation and litigation of makewhole awards, backpay calculations, and other monetary awards in compliance proceedings of agricultural employers before the board.” AB 561 would have given unlimited authority over the contract negotiations with agriculture employers and farmworkers.

AB 561 was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown for failing to adequately consider the complexity of ongoing challenges to ALRB decisions or related matters. Unsurprisingly, AB 2751 fails to address the Governor’s VETO message.

Farmworkers Await the Counting of their Ballots 

As Labor Day 2018 approaches, the Gerawan farm workers are still waiting for the ALRB to count their ballots.

In May, an appellate court ordered California officials to count the ballots the Gerawan farm workers cast in 2013 to decertify the United Farm Workers Union from representing them. Those ballots have been locked up, uncounted, since the 2013 decertification election on orders of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board. An ALRB administrative law judge even ordered the ballots destroyed, but the workers’ prevailed in court to stop the destruction of their ballots. Acting as an arm of the union, the ALRB did this to not to protect the farm workers – as is the ARLB mission – but to protect the flailing United Farm Workers labor union.

The UFW won an election to represent Gerawan Farming Company’s workers 26 years ago. But after only one bargaining session, the union disappeared and wasn’t heard from for more than 22 years. However, in October 2012, the union reappeared to impose a contract on Gerawan Farming and its employees — without a vote of the workers.

Even though the Court of Appeals ordered the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board to count the workers’ votes, the labor agency still wants to destroy the ballots and instead force a non-negotiated “contract” on the workers; a contract the workers don’t want and won’t even be allowed to vote on.

The ALRB created the “contract” and tried to force it on the workers, which
would have lowered their wages and required them to suddenly pay to keep their jobs or be fired.

As for the bad bill by Assemblyman Stone, AB 2751 sets the highest civil standard of proof for parties seeking stay of the enforcement order, virtually predetermining failure for legal challenges.

AB 2751 would also allow a government-written, non-negotiated contract which is still being reviewed by a court of appeal to be implemented in the interim, forcing farm workers to pay union dues or agency fees to keep their jobs or be discharged under a court order.  If the appellate court later overturns the contract, there is no provision for the farm workers to be repaid for their dues, or to be reinstated and paid backpay for being discharged for refusing to pay union dues or agency fees.

During the period of interim implementation, farm workers would lose their right to strike or to petition to remove a union or replace it with another union of their own choosing.  Farm workers are not provided with any opportunity under current law to vote to ratify or reject a government-imposed contract and would not have that right if a court orders such a contract to be implemented pending judicial review.

To get the bill out of the Assembly Labor and Employment committee in April, Stone must have broken the record for the quantity of lies that could be told in the mere two sentences he used to present the bill. Stone said, “…farm workers voted on, ratified, and put together a contract…” Fact is, for the “contracts” Stone is referring to, none of them are ever voted on nor ratified. Those non-negotiated contracts are created by Jerry Brown appointees who then force the contract on the workers and employer, and neither can opt out, not even if the contract lowers the workers take-home pay (as would have the contract ALRB is trying to force on the Gerawan workers). So, Stone’s claim that such “contracts” are chosen by workers is an absolute falsehood. Also false is the notion that workers “put together” the contracts. The Gerawan workers were actually banned from the sessions where the ALRB wrote the “contract” to force on them. The workers had no input whatsoever, and even their employer’s efforts to protect the workers’ right continue protesting was discarded by ALRB. Finally, the successor contracts provision of his bill is something the Democrats said mandatory mediation was never supposed to be about. Obviously, they lied, which is a tell about their lousy bill.

In the 2014 SB 25 hearings, then Senate President Darrell Steinberg and the Democrats scoffed at the idea that mandatory mediation would be perpetual and that it was a one-time only extreme action to jump start a contract. “SB 25 would allow the United Farm Workers labor union, andCalifornia Agricultural Labor Relations Board, to force an employer into mandatory mediation at any time,” I wrote in 2014. And I explained:

The bill would put farm workers under the state’s Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation law. Under that law, the California Agriculture Labor Relations Board could impose wages, terms and conditions of employment on the farm workers and the company itself. The terms of an agreement would be decided by a single arbitrator/mediator, who meets with the employer and the union separately, and drafts the contract. Workers never would get to vote on the contract, as they do with actual collective-bargaining agreements.

Collective bargaining: It’s not collective, there is no bargaining

What is forced is in no way a “collective bargaining agreement.” It’s not collective, there is no bargaining, and there is no agreement. It’s actually an order written by an arbitrator who forces it on the employer and employees against their will.

This bill does not “assist” collective bargaining in any way — there is nothing about the process that is consensual.

By all accounts, the ALRB has been a quiet state-sponsored accomplice for the United Farm Workers in the union’s combative relationship with Gerawan Farming. Meanwhile, the Gerawan workers are demanding proof that the ballot box has not been tampered with. On this Labor Day, shouldn’t the Gerawan workers’ ballots finally be counted?

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