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Katy Grimes

Important Legal Victory for Farmworkers and Gerawan Farming

Thursday, a California Appellate Court struck a blow to autocratic labor, when it struck down California’s Compulsory Contracting Statute as unconstitutional, and set aside the state’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board-ordered contract on Gerawan Farming. The court called the forcing of this unwanted union contract on workers an  “unconstitutional abuse of authority.”

And, the Court even awarded repayment to Gerawan of its costs for bringing this appeal.

The ruling is a significant victory for Gerawan Farming and its 5,000 workers. Gerawan’s workers have been fighting a UFW takeover since October 2012, when the United Farm Workers labor union showed up unannounced after abandoning workers for more than 20 years, and ordered workers to pay 3 percent of their pay as dues or fees to the UFW, or be fired.

The state’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board was formed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 1975 to give farmworkers a voice in their own representation, but that hasn’t been how the ALRB has conducted itself; its dealings with Gerawan have been hostile, with the ALRB openly advocating for the UFW, rather than the workers.

Gerawan’s workers don’t want the labor union. Thousands successfully petitioned the ALRB to hold an election to decertify the union in Nov. 2013. But instead of counting the ballots, which likely favored decertification of the UFW, the ALRB confiscated the workers’ ballots, and have kept them locked up since. Simultaneously, the ALRB ordered Gerawan into Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation with the UFW, while the ALRB General Counsel attempted to force a collective bargaining agreement with the UFW on Gerawan and its employees.

It’s been a nightmare for the workers, and Gerawan Farming.

Good News

On Thursday, the California Court of Appeal in Fresno unanimously declared the Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation (MMC) Statute unconstitutional and set aside the California Agricultural Labor Relation Board’s order to force a collective bargaining agreement with the UFW, on Gerawan and its employees.

The decision holds that the “inequality and arbitrariness of the MMC process” improperly delegates legislative authority to an unelected state agency. Calling the MMC statute “the very antithesis of equal protection,” the Court held that it unconstitutionally mandates “the imposition of a collective bargaining agreement by administrative edict” based on “a distinct, unequal, individualized set of rules” for each individual employer.

“As the present case illustrates, where a union has arguably abandoned the employees but later returns to invoke the MMC process, that situation may create a crisis of representation,” the court said. In one of the most important aspects of the dispute, the Court ruled that Gerawan Farming “should have been given an opportunity to prove abandonment to the Board once UFW requested the MMC process,” concluding that the Board “abused its discretion” when it compelled Gerawan into this forced contracting process “without properly considering Gerawan’s claim of union abandonment.”

“This is a significant victory for our employees, our family, and the entire industry,” said the company’s co-owner, Dan Gerawan. “The Court’s ruling vindicates our argument that no state agency should be able to unilaterally impose a contract on workers without a vote or force it on employers without their consent. This decision is a significant win for all agricultural workers, who justifiably deserve the freedom to choose representatives to speak for them at the bargaining table.”

The Court concluded that Gerawan was permitted to raise the UFW’s abandonment as a defense to this forced contracting scheme, “because only that result will preserve the Agricultural Labor Relations Act’s purpose of protecting the employees’ right to choose.”

As the Court held, under the MMC process, “a collective bargaining agreement will be imposed whether the employees want it or not; and it will be imposed with the formerly absent union, whether the employees want its representation or not.”

Rejecting the ALRB’s argument that employees could mount a decertification effort against a heretofore-absent union, the Court held that “[r]ealistically, a decertification option would often be too late to stop the MMC process.”

The Court’s decision is here, and and tells the entire story. And here are many of my stories about the ALRB’s efforts to force a union contract on Gerawan employees.

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