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Latest News - March 2015

March 2, 2015
GOP bill would give AG workers new rights to decline union contracts

A labor dispute involving a Fresno fruit grower has spawned legislation that would give workers new authority to decline the terms of a union contract if they think it does not represent them.

Assembly Bill 1389 would allow workers to attend state-run mediation hearings between agricultural companies and farmworker unions. It also would give workers new rights to vote on contracts that result from those hearings.

The law also would require the state to decertify unions that "abandon or fail to represent" workers for three years.

The legislation will "give workers extra tools" to turn down union contacts that they feel do not represent their best interests, said Christina Nelson, chief of staff to Assemblyman Jim Patterson, the Fresno Republican authoring the bill.

The story behind the bill concerns Fresno-based Gerawan Farming and some messy labor politics in the Central Valley. More than two decades ago, workers at Gerawan voted to be represented by the United Farm Workers union. But the union and the company never agreed to a contract.

In 2013, the union brought the issue to theAgricultural Labor Relations Board, a quasi-judicial body, which then imposed a compromise contract on both sides after a mediation hearing.

That mediation hearing was attended by 16 Gerawan employees who were opponents of the UFW contract. The board dismissed the attempt of employees to intervene in the hearing, because, it argued, the mediation hearing was only open to Gerawan and the UFW — the organization officially representing the company's workers.

In an official decision, the board later found that the Gerawan employees could not "intervene" in mediation hearings because their presence could make the process "unworkable."

An official from the relations board declined comment on the issue, saying it was wrapped up in pending litigation. In that case, which is pending before the Fifth District Court of Appeals, Gerawan Farming is suing the labor relations board. That lawsuit challenges the state's ability to impose a collective bargaining agreement on the company, which argues that it has never refused to negotiate a contract with a " duly-elected labor representative."

A call seeking comment from the United Farm Workers also was not returned.

The Patterson bill seeks to allow farm employees to attend mediation hearings by the relations board and ultimately approve or decline bargaining agreements that come out of that hearing.



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