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UPDATE: Gerawan Workers Vote Decisively to Decertify UFW

Bryan Little, Farm Employers Labor Service

UPDATED: Sept. 19, 2018

Gerawan Farmily Farms workers voted for a petition to decertify the United Farm Workers (UFW) as their collective bargaining representative on Sept. 18.  The 1098 to 197 vote was supervised by the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB), which had declined to count Gerawan workers' for three years pending resolution of various alleged election irregularities.  The validity of more than 600 workers' ballots were challenged.  

UFW's third vice president, Armando Elenes, clung to the hope that the ALRB might yet invalidate the election: "the ALRB must consider whether a free and fair choice was prevented by multiple, serious and repeated violations of workers' rights by the company." The lopsided margin of victory for the decertification petition raises doubts about the validity of those charges.

On Sept. 12, 2018 the California Supreme Court rejected a request from the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB)  to review an opinion issued by the California 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno concerning issues efforts by Gerawan Family Farms' employees to decertify the United Farm Workers (UFW) as their collective bargaining representative.  The Supreme Court let stand an order from the appellate court to the ALRB to count the ballots in the decertification election.

The ALRB ordered ballots from the 2013 decertificaiton election impounded pending resolution of election objections and unfair labor practice charges.  The ALRB found that Gerawan's alleged unfair labor practices influenced the election to such a degree that the workers' desire for representation (or non-representation) could not be determined.  The 5th District Court faulted the ALRB, saying, "...several of the unfair labor practiced findings relied on by the Board were unsupported by the record by the whole," and criticized the Board for losing sight of the "...value of protecting the farmworkers' right to choose, which was a fundamental part of the Board's mission." 

The Supreme Court's decision represents a major victory for Gerawan employees, who have sought decertification of UFW for many years.  UFW won an election among Gerawan's employees in 1990, but it walked away after failing to negotiate a labor contract with the company. The union returned in 2012, demanding Gerawan agree to a contract requiring its workers to pay union dues. The so-called "union security" clause of the contract UFW demanded would have required Gerawan to fire any workers who failed to join the union.

Failing again to reach a voluntary agreement with Gerawan, UFW quickly initiated the mandatory mediation/arbitration provisions of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act to force a "contract" into place. Interested Gerawan workers sought to participate in the mediation process, but were denied access to it.

Even after an absence of two decades, UFW could legally demand that Gerawan bargain with it because the certification by the ALRB of a union as the collective bargaining agent of an employer's employees endures forever, unless the employees themselves call for an election to decertify the union and then vote it out of that capacity.