It looks like it will be several months before the results of a vote on union certification are known at one of the biggest stone fruit and table grape growers in the nation, Gerawan Farming of Reedley, CA.
Many of the ballots from the 2,600 employees eligible to vote in the Nov. 5 election were challenged by the United Farm Workers (UFW), prompting legal objections from attorneys representing both Gerawan Farming and one of the employees, Sylvia Lopez. One of the attorney’s representing Gerawan Farming, Ron Barsamian, said the union challenged the ballots of eight crews, or a total of approximately 800 ballots. The ballots have been sealed and will not be opened until there is a hearing which will likely not take place for several months, said Barsamian.
Neither the UFW nor the attorney representing the union in the matter have returned phone calls nor email messages from GrowingProduce.com for comment as to why the ballots were challenged. Barsamian said he thinks it was a stalling tactic.
The election came in the wake of a decision by the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, which vacated an earlier order that went against Gerawan Farming. The complicated situation actually goes back two decades, and had been dormant since then. That was when the UFW won the right to begin contract negotiations with Gerawan employees. After negotiations opened all those years ago, they were abruptly stopped — but by the UFW — said Barsamian, who noted that very few of the company’s employees today voted in that election.
Earlier this year, the UFW abruptly sought to have the 20-year-old election upheld. UFW officials were then quoted in a news story in The Business Journal, a Fresno weekly newspaper, that Gerawan has been stalling for many years instead of negotiating. Gerawan Farming, saying it was the union that ceased negotiating, asked for a retraction and the UFW did request a correction, but the paper stuck by its story.
In September, Gerawan Farming, saying it was fed up with the UFW’s tactics, filed a libel suit against the union. Gerawan claimed the UFW defamed its reputation and threatened to harm the company’s relationship with its employees.
A statement by the Gerawan family released just prior to the election read, in part: “For the first time in over 23 years, the UFW will face the will of the workers. Today’s decision is an historic event. The victory belongs to those workers who never gave up hope that the Board would listen to their pleas. We are humbled by the perseverance of so many workers who refused to give up in their quest to hold a secret ballot election.”