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Katy Grimes

Farm Employees Want ‘Right-To-Work’ In Union Dominated California

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker recently signed a right-to-work bill into law. This is significant because a “right-to-work” law is a statute that prohibits union security agreements, or agreements between labor unions and employers, that govern the extent to which an established union can require employees’ membership, payment of union dues, or fees as a condition of employment.

In California, Gov. Jerry Brown has ignored thousands of farm workers who don’t want to be unionized. Apparently there is no “right-to-work” in California under this governor.

The significant labor reforms enacted by Walker have struck many important blows against organized labor, effectively ending collective bargaining for Wisconsin public workers. In the four years since these reforms were enacted, the state’s most influential labor unions have been forced to merge because of steep declines in membership. When employees are given the choice, most choose to work without a labor union.

Oh, could workers only be so lucky in labor union-owned California?

Of the 800,000 farm workers in California, the United Farm Workers labor union represents only 3,300 members. The labor union has targeted the 5,000 Gerawan Farming employees in order to rebuild itself, while gaining 5,000 additional dues-paying members.

In addition to the UFW labor union, the appointed members of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, and Democratic politicians up and down the state, have joined in the fight against the workers to force them to unionize. This is one of the most significant labor relations fights in the country, with many questioning the legal tactics and ethics of the members of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, and the silence of Gov. Jerry Brown.

Gerawan Workers

The Gerawan Farming workers don’t want to be members of the UFW, and held an election in 2013 to officially decertify the labor union. But the ALRB locked up the workers’ ballots, refused to count them, and has instead assisted the UFW in its takeover attempt.

The workers at Gerawan Farming have been trying since October 2012 to decertify the United Farm Workers labor union. (Watch this video about their fight) The workers are not only fighting the UFW labor union, Gov. Jerry Brown’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board has thwarted them at every turn. The UFW and ALRB have been in a battle to prevent the workers from choosing to work without a labor union. And the workers’ pleas to Jerry Brown and Democratically-controlled Legislature have fallen on deaf ears, despite their insincere claims to care for farm workers. Even the radical Berkeley and Oakland City Councils, and Los Angeles Unified School District voted to support the UFW — they are siding with an organization over the human beings who don’t want the oppressive union dictating their working conditions. So much for “human rights”… a phrase liberals carelessly toss around, until it comes time to take a real stand and act on it.

Many in the vast California farming community acknowledge that the Agricultural Labor Relations Board and United Farm Workers labor union have joined forces to boost the size of the flailing union by targeting one of the biggest non-union farming operations in the state. 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. The UFW won an election to represent Gerawan Farming Company’s workers 23 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.

The Fair Contracts for CA Farmworkers Act

Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, authored a bill to deal with this situation head on.

AB 1389, The Fair Contracts for CA Farmworkers Act would give workers the right to confirm or reject the terms of a contract being forced on them by the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, as a result of the state’s mandatory mediation and conciliation process. The bill would give workers the right to attend and monitor all mandatory mediation meetings held by the Agricultural Labor Relations Board. Farm workers do not currently have these rights.

Patterson’s bill says if the union abandons or fails to represent the workers for a period of three or more years, the ALRB must decertify the union contract, removing them as the workers’ representative.

Farm workers would be allowed to attend all mandatory mediation meetings in order to monitor the process and understand the terms of their contract.

Patterson’s bill will be heard Wednesday in the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee.

Workers To Earn Less With UFW Contract

Longtime Gerawan Farming employee, Silvia Lopez, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against ALRB board members and top staff, for their refusal to count the ballots from the November election. Lopez has been the leader of the workers, and personally organized the signature gathering to petition the decertification election.

Lopez and the workers say they don’t want the union for many reasons, the least of which is they stand to make less money. Union dues for the United Farm Workers is three percent of pay. At least three recent UFW contracts call for employees to earn $9 per hour. Once union dues are deducted, the workers actually earn closer to $8.75 an hour — less than minimum wage, which is currently $9.00 per hour.

Currently paid $11 per hour minimum without a union contract, Gerawan workers earn over $2 per hour more than workers with UFW contracts elsewhere. Even more troubling is the current contract the ALRB and UFW are trying to force on the Gerawan workers will cause them to earn less than the $11 an hour they currently earn once dues are deducted. Under an imposed union contract, the Gerawan workers will earn $10.91 per hour instead of the $11 they earn now. The union has told the workers that they want to fire anyone who does not give them 3 percent of his or her pay.

Perhaps that is also why the ALRB and UFW put a sneaky clause in the Gerawan contract to prohibit the workers from continuing their wildly popular strike protests against ALRB and UFW.

It is important to note that the Gerawan family has never charged the workers anything to keep their jobs, nor have they tried to prevent the workers from striking or protesting.

This is an issue which deserves attention from both sides of the political aisle. On April 14, the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno heard oral arguments to decide the constitutionality of forced labor contracts. In the case of Gerawan and another grower, the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board is trying to force a government-written “contract” on the employers and employees, without a ratification vote by the employees, even though the employees will have to pay the union or lose their jobs.

The Gerawan employees held an election in Nov. 2013 to likely decertify the UFW, but the ALRB locked up the ballots and refused to count them. And now there is a chance an ALRB judge could order the ballots destroyed. What about the workers’ voices? Do they not have the right anymore in union-dominated California to choose to work without a union contract? This is a far cry from Wisconsin, where employees are allowed to decide if they want to be members of a labor union.

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