Can California force “collective bargaining agreement” on growers, employees?

August 30 , 2017

Next month the California Supreme Court will hear arguments to decide on a controversial issue that has enveloped Gerawan Farming and its employees. 

The issue at hand relates to what are known as " Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation" (MMC) amendments to the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA), and on Sept. 5 the court will decide whether union United Farmworkers (UFW) can invoke this arbitrary process.

After a 17-year absence from UFW, the union sought to re-establish relations wih employees of Gerawan in 2012, but its proposals were met with resistance from the company and some employees.

How many or what percentage of workers? That is difficult to establish, as the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) deemed a decertification vote invalid due to allegations of intervention. 

Since then, Gerawan Farming, a portion of the company's employees, the UFW and other groups have been involved in a multi-faceted, heated battle to protect their interests and aims. 

In a release, Gerawan highlights the California Court of Appeal has held that MMC violates equal protection principles and unlawfully delegates power to the ALRB in its imposition of UFW membership on the Fresno-based company and its employees.

On May 15, 2015, that court unanimously held that the ALRB’s forced contracting scheme is “the antithesis of equal protection” because it imposes a contract “by administrative edict” based on “a distinct, unequal, individualized set of rules” for each employer.

Gerawan describes the MMC as a "uniquely coercive form of government intervention in private employer relations".

"No other state allows an administrative agency to draft and impose contracts dictating wages, hours, and terms of employment on private companies and employees, without even letting the employees vote on it," Gerawan Farming said in the release.

"In this case, since UFW had disappeared for almost two decades, 99% of the Gerawan employees never voted for UFW representation, yet the state is trying to force a contract on them anyway.

The peach grower highlighted the United States Supreme Court unanimously struck down a scheme similar to MMC almost a century ago, holding it infringed both the employer’s right to contract and the employees' freedom of association; this includes the right to strike.

"The MMC contract set aside by the Court of Appeal bars worker strikes, even though such strikes have been the Gerawan em-ployees’ primary means of expression," the company said.

"The MMC contract also compels Gerawan to fire workers who refuse to pay three percent of their earnings to the UFW, “whether,” as the Court of Appeal held, “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 of Appeal held that “[r]ealistically, a decertification option would often be too late to stop the MMC process.”

In the lead-up to the court date, the UFW has been calling on the public for donations to help "hundreds of farm workers" get a bus to attend the hearing.

"Growers have a long history of refusing to negotiate contracts with workers who have voted to be represented by the UFW," the union claimed.

"That’s why workers marched to demand mandatory mediation. This law guarantees their right to get the contract they voted for.

The UFW alleged workers at Gerawan Farming had been fighting an "uphill battle" to get a UFW contract, claiming the "mega company" was repeatedly using the legal system to cause delays.

"When the mediator -- which the company itself choose -- finalized the terms of the contract, Gerawan refused to implement it," the union said.

"Instead, they took the law to court. The workers’ contract has been tied up in court ever since. 

"The case has finally reached the Supreme Court of California and will be heard on September 5th -- ironically the day after Labor Day. Workers have made it clear to us that they want to be part of this."

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