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Katy Grimes

Labor Day California: No Right To Work, No Right To Vote

While California Gov. Jerry Brown has ignored thousands of California farm workers who don’t want to be unionized, Wisconsin became the 25th Right-to-Work state.

Happy Labor Day Gerawan farm workers. In one of the most significant labor relations fights in the country, proceedings have  turned ugly, with many questioning the legal tactics and scruples of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board.

The Agricultural Labor Relations Board says it exists to protect the rights of all agricultural employees, including those not wanting labor organization representation, as is the case with Gerawan Farming employees. However, Gerawan farming employees say they have not received any assistance from the ALRB.

Whenever they can, labor unions historically try to gain control over entry into the labor market. “Such measures are for the purpose of holding down the supply of labor in the field and thereby enabling those fortunate enough to be admitted to it, to earn higher incomes,” wrote George Reisman of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Wages throughout the economic system rise only from the side of a greater supply of goods and services relative to the supply of labor and thus from prices being lower relative to wages, Reisman explained.

Brown’s Early Labor Union Concessions

During Jerry Brown’s two previous terms as governor, 1975 to 1983, he established collective bargaining in California’s public schools and community colleges, and established collective bargaining for state government employees, as well as extending collective bargaining to the state university system. Brown has shown himself to be quite a champion of the labor unions.

Yet, the political left always talks about the importance of counting every vote, right up until they don’t want the result of that vote, as in the case of the workers at Gerawan Farming, Inc.

Today’s Labor Market

The workers at Gerawan Farming have been trying since October 2012 to decertify the United Farm Workers labor union. The workers are not only being fought by the UFW union, Brown’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board has thwarted them at every turn. And pleas to the Democratic Governor, Democrat-controlled Legislature, and Latino Legislative Caucus have fallen on deaf ears, despite their claims to care for farm workers.

The United Farm Workers labor union is working in tandem with the Agriculture Labor Relations Board to force the farm workers into a collective bargaining agreement that the thousands of workers don’t want. The United Farm Workers narrowly won an election to represent Gerawan Farming’s workers 24 years ago. But after only one bargaining session, and no contract in place, the union disappeared and wasn’t heard from for more than two decades.

In October of 2012, the union reappeared and insisted that a collective bargaining agreement covering Gerawan workers be reactivated, despite no union involvement with the workers for decades. The workers organized themselves and began the process to be able to vote to decertify the labor union.

“We can think for ourselves; we don’t want your union,” says Silvia Lopez, the leader of the workers. “We had an election on Nov. 5, 2013 — we fought a lot to have the election. We voted, but the votes haven’t been counted.”

Lopez is right; the votes to this day remain uncounted. And Gov. Jerry Brown, who claims to be a champion of the farm workers, refuses to intervene.

In fact, Lopez and the workers gathered signatures two times to petition the ALRB, for an election to vote to decertify the UFW. But both times the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board sided with the UFW against the workers. The ALRB disqualified the petition drives, dubiously claiming many of the signatures were forged, and that workers turned them in late. But under pressure, the ALRB eventually reversed its decision, and the workers voted in the election to decertify the UFW in November 2013.

Not so fast… ALRB switched gears

After all of the ballots were in, the ALRB impounded them, refused to count them, and initiated legal proceedings against Gerawan Farming, Inc. Then, less than two weeks later, the ALRB adopted the unwanted collective bargaining agreement and Mandatory Mediation, and the UFW filed an enforcement action to force Gerawan to comply.

Silvia Lopez and her co-workers filed a class-action lawsuit against the ALRB for refusing to count the ballots. Gerawan Farms filed suit against the ALRB, alleging that mandatory mediation is unconstitutional. The UFW continues to call for a contract to be imposed. And both the ALRB and the UFW allege that Gerawan Farming has engaged in unfair labor practices, despite winning in court.

“The main problem is in the ALRB office,” said Lopez. “They are supposed to be neutral with us. But they are not. We can see that they are favoring the UFW.”

The Agricultural Labor Relations Board is mandated to protect the rights of California farm workers. However, the ALRB instead waged a systematic campaign against the thousands of farm workers to prevent them from voting to de-certify the United Farm Workers union at Gerawan Farming, one of the nation’s largest family-owned fruit producers.

Count Our Votes

The California Agricultural Labor Relations Board may have just celebrated its 40th anniversary, but this board also has a long history of abusive behavior – toward California farm workers, and farmers and ranchers.

Gerawan Farm Worker Rally “Count Our Votes”

The ALRB has clearly been “in cahoots” with the UFW, according to a Superior Court Judge, to force the workers into the union.

But there are many more cases of farm and ranch owners abused by the ALRB, which raise serious doubts about the fairness and objectivity of this California state agency created to defend the rights of farmworkers. And top ALRB attorneys are involved up to their eyeballs, misleading farm workers, as well as the courts.

The only help the Gerawan workers have received is from state Assembly members Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, and Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield.

Patterson and Grove introduced AB 1389,the Fair Contracts for CA Farmworkers Act  which would have given workers rights they currently don’t have, to attend and monitor all labor contract mediation meetings held by the Agricultural Labor Relations Board so they can understand the terms of their contract and the ability to vote to approve or decline the terms of that contract, Patterson said. The bill would also have required the ALRB to nullify a union contract if the union abandons the workers for a period of three or more years.

But the bill was killed by Democrats while in the legislative committee process.

Meanwhile, the Gerawan workers continue to fight for their rights in this state. As Silvia Lopez continues to ask, “Jerry Brown, can you hear me?”

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