The California Supreme Court, overturning a lower court ruling, decided Monday that growers may have a labor contract imposed on them if negotiations with a union fail to produce an agreement.
The court unanimously upheld a 2002 law that permits the state to order farmers and unions to reach binding contracts.
The Legislature passed the law after determining that farmers were refusing to negotiate with unionized workers. The law allows either side to ask for a neutral mediator and for that mediator to impose a contract covering wages and working conditions.
Monday’s ruling came in a dispute between the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), founded by Cesar Chavez, and Gerawan Farming of Reedley, CA.
Gerawan Attorney David Schwarz said they intend to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review Monday’s decision on the convoluted case, which dates all the way back to an election held in 1990.
“Today’s decision imposes the UFW on our employees, whether they want the UFW or not. In this case, since UFW had disappeared for almost two decades, 99% of the Gerawan employees never voted for UFW representation,” said Schwarz in a statement Monday. “Many were not born in 1990 when the UFW last stood for election as their representatives. Now, despite a history of earning the industry’s highest wages, the state wants to force these workers to pay 3% of their wages to the UFW or lose their jobs.”
About six months later, longtime Gerawan Farms employee Silvia Lopez filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against members and staff of the California Agriculture Labor Relations Board (ALRB) for what she said is their ongoing refusal to count ballots cast by farm workers in the November 2013 election, to decertify the UFW.
More recently, in 2016, Western Growers and the California Fresh Fruit Association announced they were filing a friend-of-the-court brief supporting a lawsuit challenging provisions of the new law that provides a safe harbor from class-action lawsuits to employers who make back payment to piece-rate employees.
On Monday another Gerawan attorney, Ronald Barsamian, told the Fresno Bee the company’s workers still deserve the right to know the results of that disputed 2013 election to try and oust the UFW.
“Nothing in today’s opinion prevents the employees’ ballots from being counted. In fact, the court’s decision makes clear why these ballots must be counted,” Barsamian said. “Currently pending before the California Fifth District Court of appeal is a petition filed by the workers arguing that the ballots cast in that November 2013 election be counted.”
UFW officials were thankful the justices ruled against the farming company.
“The state high court categorically rejected all of Gerawan’s legal and constitutional challenges to California’s landmark Mandatory Mediation Law – including its allegations about ‘abandonment’ by the union – and upheld the law’s constitutionality,” Arturo Rodriguez, the UFW’s president, said in a statement.
Rodriguez said that now the court has ruled, Gerawan should immediately “honor the union contract hammered out by a neutral state mediator in 2013 and pay its workers the more than $10 million it already owes them.”
Here is the text of the 48-page decision.
Schwarz’s statement concluded: “We believe that coerced contracts are constitutionally at odds with free choice. The employees are entitled to the dignity and respect that they earned by giving them what is their right. A secret ballot election allows them to decide for themselves who will speak for them at the bargaining table.”