U.S.: ALRB General Counsel seeks orders against Gerawan Farming

September 12 , 2014

California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) General Counsel Sylvia Torres-Guillen has sought 15 orders against fruit grower Gerawan Farming, in response to allegations of unfair labor practices and what she claims to be the unlawful support of union decertification efforts. peaches_34743643 - panorama 2

Amid a heated drive from Gerawan workers who don't want to pay fees to the United Farm Workers (UFW) union, the authority has published a 28-page document with serious allegations against not only the company, but its work crews and the face of the campaign, Silvia Lopez.

Readers can click here for background on this heated issue that has drawn divisive accounts from workers, the company, an NGO, the UFW and the ALRB.

The document outlines allegations that company supervisors and work crews gave instructions to employees that they sign against the union, that pro-union workers were discriminated against, and that Lopez only "sporadically" worked for Gerawan and spent significant periods of time engaged in anti-union activities during work hours.

Lopez was instrumental in gathering votes from workers to decertify from the union in late 2013, and also drew praise from the Center for Worker Freedom recently for her efforts with a petition signed by 800 workers under penalty of perjury that they had not been coerced or intimidated by the employer.

The document was handed over to the ALRB in an anti-union protest last month, under the catchcry 'count our votes'.

But the point of contention for the authority is the validity of those votes in light of claims made by UFW against Gerawan, which prompted the ballots to be impounded on Nov. 5.

After a lengthy assessment period, the General Counsel's fresh report shows the ALRB shares the UFW's view of the situation.

The orders made by the General Counsel are mostly of a 'cease and desist' nature relating to alleged anti-union activities and interference, along with requests for a detailed employee address list, to allow the ALRB access to worksites, to distribute worker rights notices, and give access for ALRB agents to provide one-hour training sessions to Gerawan's field supervisors.

"During the course of the decertification signature gathering effort from approximately July 20, 2013 through November 1, 2013, Gerawan, through its owners, supervisors, and crew bosses, regularly made statements that encouraged and assisted in the effort to decertify the union and coerced employees in their ability to choose whether to support decertification," a complaint alleged in the report.

Last week Lopez told www.freshfruitportal.com she had worked for Gerawan Farming for 15 years, but the report claims she had not worked at the company since 2010 prior to joining once more in 2013, and was allegedly involved in anti-union activities prior to starting work again.

In a release, she described the ALRB's actions as "shameful".

"Just a few days ago, my co-workers and I went to the ALRB office in Visalia to tell them in person that we were not coerced or interfered with by our employer when we voted last November," Lopez said.

"The only people who have tried to coerce us by lying, bullying and threatening us are the UFW employees. The ALRB is supposed to fight for the farmworkers. But instead, they chose to ignore the more than 800 voices of farmworkers at Gerawan."

Lopez's attorney Paul Bauer said he was not surprised the board had come to a "UFW-approved" conclusion.

"Even the timing of these findings is another example of the ALRB's attempts to silence the workers," Bauer said.

"Just last week, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) overseeing this case chastised the ALRB general counsel for dragging her feet on releasing her findings, since ongoing delays will hamper our ability to provide responses and call witnesses during the September 29, 2014 hearing.

"This is the type of unethical trickery that some of the ALRB representatives have been engaged in since Day One."

A release from Gerawan slams Torres-Guillen's "eleventh hour complaint".

"This is the latest gambit to deprive the workers of their right. It is part of an unfortunate pattern of delay to avoid the sensible and democratic solution: to count the ballots," the release said.

"Not once in her complaint does the General Counsel mention that her staff asked for, and was given, unlimited access to speak to every Gerawan worker, so that the ALRB could explain to our workers their right to choose, without any influence from our company, the UFW, or the Board.

"The ALRB got what it asked for. It spoke directly to over 2,000 workers. It then told the Fresno Superior Court that it was satisfied with this process, which was intended for one reason only -- to assure that a free and fair election could go forward."

Gerawan claimed the General Counsel pretended this never happened.

"The Board was not misled by this omission, which is why it reversed the repeated efforts of her staff to summarily dismiss the election. And neither was the Fresno Superior Court, who had ample reason to comment that it appeared to him that the General Counsel and the UFW were -- in his words --'in cahoots'.

"We are confident that the judge who will hear the UFW's and the General Counsel's coordinated efforts to block this election will not be misled."

The General Counsel's report also alleged Gerawan had "undermined" the UFW's status as a bargaining agent in its unilateral decisions to raise wages for its workers hired through farm labor contractors, as well as in its implementation of a new employee discount program.

"Gerawan did not negotiate with the UFW over the new employee benefit, nor did it inform the UFW of its intention to implement a new benefit program," the report said.

The report also alleged Gerawan had refused to provide the union with accurate employee contact information, citing more than 2,000 employee addresses that were either "non-existent, non-residential or where the employee did not live".

But in its release, the company said while several bargaining sessions had taken place, the UFW never produced a complete economic proposal.

"Instead, the UFW waited until the compelled mandatory arbitration was almost over and only after the state mediator ordered the UFW to make its economic proposal," Gerawan said.

"Our employees did not bring in a state arbitrator, the UFW did. In fact, the UFW and the ALRB banned the employees from attending the arbitration sessions when the employees asked to attend.

The company, which claims to pay the highest wages to farmworkers in its area, highlighted its employees have now sued the state for violation of their civil rights due to the continued refusal to count the decertification ballots from an election held 10 months ago.

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