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Why Won't the Agriculture Labor Relations Board Listen To Farm Workers?

Share the video and get the word out that every worker should be guaranteed the basic right to have their votes counted.

 

How We Got Here

Gerawan Farming has been family owned and operated since 1938. Ray Gerawan and his sons, Mike and Dan, have employed thousands of skilled farm workers every year to help grow and harvest table grapes and tree fruits.

In May 1990, United Farm Workers (UFW) won an election at Gerawan to represent its agricultural workers. The ALRB certified the UFW as the exclusive bargaining representative of these workers in July, 1992. After only one preliminary bargaining session in 1994 when the UFW finally scheduled the meeting, the UFW disappeared, abandoning workers for nearly two decades. It did not seek to renew its certification as required by law, nor did the union make an effort to contact Gerawan or to represent the workers. The UFW took no access to communicate with our workers. The UFW did not collect dues or fees from our workers. It filed no grievance or complaint against Gerawan during this 20-year absence.

In its absence, Gerawan employees' work ethic and dedication to their labor earned them the highest wages in their industry.

Late in 2012, the UFW resurfaced, claiming they represented current Gerawan employees based on a 1990 election. They demanded that bargaining sessions begin. Despite the fact that 99 percent of current Gerawan employees did not vote to elect UFW, the Gerawan family agreed in good faith to bargaining sessions.

Some four months after negotiations began, the UFW invoked a process known as "Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation" through the Agriculture Labor Relations Board (ALRB). This is a forced-contracting process by which a third party arbitrator dictates the terms of a binding union contract on Gerawan and its employees. It is not collective bargaining, nor is it mediation as the name implies.

California is the only state in the nation that allows a state agency to impose contractual terms upon a single private employer and labor union where there is no contract, and no agreement to permit a third-party arbitrator to set wages, terms, and, and employment conditions between one farmer and its workers. While originally intended to prevent employers from engaging in underhanded tactics to stonewall collective bargaining, in our case, the UFW never attempted to bargain in good faith, and waited more than a decade after MMC became law to invoke this process. It did so, notwithstanding the fact that the process itself shuts out Gerawan employees from having a ratification vote like every other unionized employee in the nation.

Faced with the prospect of paying dues — or losing their jobs — to an absentee union, Gerawan's workers initiated one of the largest decertification drives in California agricultural labor history. Thousands of Gerawan employees held walkouts and public protests to demonstrate their opposition to the ALRB's and the UFW's actions, and to demand the right to vote.

The workers also organized a petition drive to ask the ALRB to let them vote by secret ballot to decertify the UFW. The staff of the ALRB repeatedly dismissed or attempted to block these petitions. After amassing more than 2,600 signatures — well over a majority of Gerawan's workers — the ALRB told its staff to stop blocking the election. It reversed the staff decisions, rejected the UFW's objections, and ordered an election at Gerawan — the first in nearly 25 years.

The election was held on November 5, 2013. To date, our employees still have been denied the right to have their ballots counted and learn the outcome of the election for which they courageously fought.

Meanwhile, the ALRB has refused to release the results of the election to the public, and approved the arbitrator's contract to impose new working conditions on Gerawan employees. To ensure their voices are heard, Gerawan workers recently filed a federal civil rights action to demand that the ALRB count the ballots.

On the Record from the Gerawan Family

Did Gerawan commit "unfair labor practices" that would justify the ALRB to impose a contract on the company and its employees?

No. Gerawan has never been found to have committed any "unfair labor practice" involving any interactions with a union after it was certified, let alone any refusal to bargain in good faith with the UFW.

In fact, the UFW never filed a single complaint about Gerawan, its labor practices, or its treatment of its agricultural workers in the two decades after it was certified to represent our workers. Not once during this 20-year timeframe has the UFW claimed that Gerawan stymied its efforts to negotiate a contract.

When Governor Gray Davis signed into law the ALRB's authority to mandate arbitration, it was intended to prevent employers from stonewalling bargaining efforts for years. The arbitration process that has been invoked to impose a contract on Gerawan employees has been an unfortunate and unintended consequence that has effectively shut out the very workers that never empowered any union to represent their interests.

Does Gerawan Farming pay minimum wage and overtime to its workers?

Not only does Gerawan Farming pay its workers minimum wage, we pay our workers overtime, we pay our workers for rest breaks. We have a proud history of paying the industry's highest wages, and we offer workers unique benefits such as sponsoring private school education for their children. Any allegation to the contrary is simply false and we will defend our reputation as a responsible and lawful employer against any such charge.

Did Gerawan Farming encourage or prompt its employees to gather signatures for petitions to hold the election to decertify the UFW?

No. The only message we have ever given to our employees is that they, and they alone, are empowered to choose whether they want representation. Sadly, any suggestion that our employees did not act independently denigrates their genuine interest to decide for themselves who will represent them at the bargaining table.

The employees independently began a decertification effort, twice. They collected thousands of signatures, turned them in to the ALRB, and were finally granted the right to vote. It is now incumbent upon the ALRB to grant workers the fair and just electoral process they earned and count the votes.

Did Gerawan interfere with the workers' freedom to choose to support the decertification drive?

No. We have consistently told our employees that they alone — not the company, not the UFW, and not the ALRB — decide who will represent them at the bargaining table.

To ensure workers understood their rights, Gerawan did something unprecedented. We asked the ALRB staff to speak directly to our employees and explain that the workers have the right to support — or not support — any election to decertify the UFW.

Over a four-day period, the ALRB staff met with more than 2,000 Gerawan farm workers. The staff was given unfettered access to Gerawan orchards so that they could explain directly — and outside the presence of Gerawan management — the workers' right to choose. This was done on company time. The workers were paid to attend those sessions.

Gerawan was not required to do this. We offered to do this because we did not want the workers or ALRB staff to have any confusion or doubt that the workers' right to choose was essential to any free and fair election.

We also agreed to do this because the ALRB staff said that this was essential to ensure the integrity of the election process.

And — according to ALRB Regional Director Silas Shawver — it worked. He told a Fresno Superior Court judge that it was a "positive experience," where the workers engaged the ALRB agents in "full discussions." He also told Judge Hamilton that his "ongoing investigation" did not reveal any further allegations of "direct supervisor involvement in that way of directly seeking signatures on a petition or directly encouraging workers to sign."

Why did the ALRB impound the ballots?

The ALRB believes it needs to resolve a charge that Gerawan Farming instigated the petition drive before they release the election results. The regional director of the ALRB cited this same allegation as the basis for rejecting the employees' first petition drive.

To be clear, Gerawan Farming did not instigate either of the two petition drives the employees independently organized and believes that the unprecedented steps the company has taken to notice our employees via ALRB staff ensured a free and fair election.

While the ALRB decided that these charges should be resolved before the ballots are counted, we believe that they are improperly delaying the ballot counts and will ultimately find no evidence that Gerawan Farming influenced the collection of signatures or the process of a fair election.

Is Gerawan Farming attempting to prevent its employees from organizing and joining a union?

No. We want what our employees want. They wanted a vote to determine if the UFW should represent their interests. While we pay the highest compensation package in the industry and offer incentives such as private school tuition for employees' families, if the majority of our employees elected union representation, we would follow the letter of the law and welcome bargaining negotiations, just as we did more than 20 years ago.

We asked the ALRB to go to our fields to make sure the workers understood they have the right to vote however they want. The ALRB did that. We met with all the employees and told them that this was their choice alone to make.

We believe that the choice of bargaining representative should be made by the workers, and not imposed upon them by ALRB. The next step is to release the ballots, count the votes, and determine if our employees want union representation. The ALRB must get out of the way and allow that democratic process to occur.

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