California Farmworker Files Lawsuit Over Gerawan Farming Election

California Farmworker Files Lawsuit Over Gerawan Farming Election

Editor’s Note: Story updated at 3 p.m. PST with statement from the California Agriculture Labor Relations Board.

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Longtime Gerawan Farms employee Silvia Lopez has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against members and staff of the California Agriculture Labor Relations Board (ALRB) for what she says is their ongoing refusal to count ballots cast by farm workers on Nov. 5, 2013, to decertify the United Farm Workers (UFW) union.

“The right to vote is what our democracy is about, but ALRB staff have repeatedly tried to deny us our basic, constitutional right to vote,“ Silvia Lopez, a 15-year employee at Gerawan Farms, said in a press release from an organization called Farmworker Rights. “After many efforts by the regional director and ALRB to prevent a vote, me and thousands of my coworkers finally voted on November 5th to get rid of the UFW, but since that day, the ALRB has refused to count the ballots. Our voices remain silenced.”

The executive secretary of the ALRB, J. Antonio Barbosa, asked to comment via email, responded: “The Board has not been served with the lawsuit and does not comment on ongoing litigation.”

More than two decades ago, the UFW won an election to represent the workers of Gerawan Farming, which is located near Fresno, and then allegedly abandoned the workers without ever negotiating a contract. Then, in 2012, the UFW reappeared on the scene and demanded mandatory mediation to force a contract on Gerawan farmworkers that reportedly requires them to give 3% of their wages to the union.

In response, Lopez worked with other farmworkers and gathered nearly 3,000 signatures on two different petitions demanding a decertification vote, which would stop UFW from representing Gerawan employees.

Lopez’s suit alleges that individuals from the ALRB have purposely engaged in intimidation and stalling tactics to interfere with farmworkers’ rights to not be represented and not be forced to pay dues. According to Lopez, these actions include:

■ Repeated efforts by defendants to deny the right to vote to Lopez and the thousands of her coworkers who signed petitions requesting to decertify the UFW.

■ Defendants accepting all UFW challenges to the decertification election without investigating the claims.

■ Defendants allowing the UFW to make changes to the election process mere hours prior to ballots being cast, potentially interfering with results.

■ Defendants creating an intimidating and coercive environment while ballots were being cast.

■ Defendants purposefully working with the UFW in an effort to prevent the results of the decertification election from ever being made known to the employees and the public.

■ Defendants refusing to count the ballots and let the results be known.

“Ms. Lopez and thousands of her co-workers have gone through every hoop and met every hurdle that the ALRB and UFW have put in their way. They now have no other option but to petition the federal courts to protect their civil rights,” said Paul Bauer, the attorney representing Lopez. “A core principle of democratic self-governance is the right of due process under the 14th Amendment and freedom of association under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Counting the ballots and announcing the election results are consistent with the constitutional presumption of due process and fairness. The regional director and other defendants have provided no reason why the ballots cannot be counted.

“Governor Brown’s appointees to the ALRB are supposed to honor laborers’ rights, not engage in active disenfranchisement of their constitutional right to vote. We fully expect the court to side with the workers, whose rights have been denied for too long by a group of political appointees.”

The farmworkers cast their votes at five predetermined polling locations at Gerawan Farming locations in Reedley and Kerman. When the voting was complete, each ballot box was sealed closed and signed by representatives observing the election. The sealed boxes remain in the ALRB regional office in Visalia, with the votes uncounted.

Click here to read the entire complaint, which was filed Friday.

Source: Farmworker Rights