Workers At One Of Nation’s Largest Fruit Farms Win Right To Vote On Union

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The workers at one of the biggest stone fruit and table grape growers in the nation, Gerawan Farming of Reedley, CA, are going to get the chance to vote on union certification after all – just as the grower had hoped. According to a statement from Ray, Mike, Dan and Norma Gerawan, the union certification vote will be held, fittingly, on Tuesday, Nov. 5, when millions of American go to the polls.

The election will come in the wake of a Friday 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 United Farm Workers 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 Gerawan attorney Ron Barsamian, who noted that very few of the company’s employees today voted in that election. Indeed, some were not even yet born.

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. At peak harvest, the number of employees – including those who work for labor contractors – approaches 12,000.

At the time, another Gerawan attorney, David Schwarz of the law firm Irell & Manella, said the grower was understandably concerned with his image. “The complaint alleges that the statements made by the UFW were false and we contend they were defamatory and would injure the company,” said Schwarz, “especially in an industry where the rights of farmworkers are of great concern to the general public.”

In the Gerawans’ statement on the labor board’s decision, which was released Friday by the California Grape & Tree Fruit League, they congratulate their many workers who “prevailed in their fight for the most basic right in a democratic society – the right to vote.”

The statement continues: “An election shall be held at Gerawan Farming on Tuesday, November 5th. 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.”

The statement concludes: “We congratulate every one of our workers.”

David Eddy is editor of American/Western Fruit Grower, a Meister Media Worldwide publication.
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