California Farmworker Union Wins Battle to Ensure Contracts

Radio Law Talk Segment

California Farmworker union wins battle to ensure contracts

 

INTRO:

On Monday, Nov. 27, 2017, the high court in California unanimously ruled to allow the state to impose labor contracts for farmworkers whose unions and employers do not agree on wages or other working conditions.

 

FACTS:

 

The United Farm Workers of America won a battle in court against Gerawan Farming on Nov. 27.  The high court’s holding imposes labor contracts for farmworkers whose unions and employers do not agree on wages or other working conditions. The decision allows farmworker unions to retain the power, by ensuring contracts that guarantee pay, hours, and other terms that could otherwise be decided by employers. Gerawan Farming plans to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

 

ISSUES:

 

Employers:

  • Consider the law government overreach that deprives employers and workers of any say over the terms of employment
  • “We believe that coerced contracts are constitutionally at odds with free choice” – Dan Gerawan

Union members:

  • Law prevents employers from stalling employment contracts to avoid a deal

 

LAW:

DISPUTED LAW: Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation Regulations Title 8, California Code of Regulations, sections 20400-20408, 20450

On September 30, 2002, Governor Davis signed two companion bills, SB 1156 and AB 2596, that amended the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, effective January 1, 2003, to provide for binding mediation in selected circumstances where the parties have been unable to reach a collective bargaining agreement. The law was amended by SB 75, effective January 1, 2004, to delete a sunset provision, add nonexclusive standards to be followed by the mediator, and expand the grounds for review of the mediator’s report. The law was amended again by SB 126, effective January 1, 2012. Those amendments 1) Reduced from 180 to 90 days the period that must elapse after an initial request to bargain before a request for mediation may be requested, where the labor organization was certified after January 1, 2003, and 2) Expanded the circumstances when a union or employer may invoke the mediation process to include those denoted as “(C)” and “(D)” below.

As amended, the mandatory mediation and conciliation provisions provide as follows:

The mediation provisions apply only if the employer has employed 25 or more agricultural employees during any calendar week in the year preceding the filing of the request for mediation. If the certification of the union occurred after January 1, 2003, the mediation process may be triggered where:

(A) 90 days have elapsed from the initial demand to bargain following certification.

(B) If the certification occurred prior to January 1, 2003, 90 days after a renewed demand to bargain, and where the following conditions are met:

  1. The parties have failed to reach agreement for at least one year after the union made its initial demand to bargain;
  2. The employer has committed an unfair labor practice; and
  3. The parties have not previously had a binding contract between them.

(C) 60 days after the Board certifies a labor organization after setting aside an election due to employer interference where the misconduct renders slight the chances of a new election reflecting the free and fair choice of employees.

(D) 60 days after a decertification petition has been dismissed due to a finding that the employer has unlawfully initiated, supported, sponsored, or assisted in the filing of a decertification petition.

Once a mediator is selected in accordance with the process set forth in the legislation and implementing regulations, the mediation will continue for 30 days, with an option for an extension of 30 days if mutually agreed by the parties. If this process does not result in resolution of all issues to the mutual satisfaction of the parties, the mediator will certify that the process has been exhausted. Thereafter, the mediator will have 21 days to file a report that establishes the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. The law further provides for Board review of the mediator’s report and appellate court review of the Board’s decisions.

The Board’s regulations are codified at Title 8, California Code of Regulations, section 20100, et seq., and may be found on this website under “Statutes and Regulations”. The regulations specific to the mandatory mediation process are sections 20400 through 20408, and 20450.

DETAILED FACTS:

 

The United Farm Workers of America (“UFW”), co-founded by Cesar Chavez, won a battle in court against Gerawan Farming, a nectarine, peach and plum farm in CA Central Valley on Nov. 27.  The high court’s holding imposes labor contracts for farmworkers whose unions and employers do not agree on wages or other working conditions. The decision allows farmworker unions to retain the power, by ensuring contracts that guarantee pay, hours, and other terms that could otherwise be decided by employers. Gerawan Farming plans to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. The disputed law allows the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (“CALRB”) to order mediation to achieve a contract and gives mediators the authority to set the terms of the agreement if there is an impasse. The board can then force those conditions on companies and unions. The California justices said the law did not violate the state Constitution because it provided enough guidance to mediators on how to decide contract disputes and furthered lawmakers’ goal of ensuring that collective bargaining agreements are tailored to the unique circumstances of each employer. Unions can seek mediation 90 days after demanding to bargain on behalf of workers even if the vote to unionize occurred decades earlier in some cases.

 

Historically, UFW won the right to represent Gerawan Farming workers in 1990, however the union and farm’s employers could not agree to a contract. At UFW’s request, the CALRB in 2013 ordered Gerawan and the union to mediate, and the mediator eventually crafted a contract that was approved. Ultimately, the CA Supreme Court said the possibility that mediators could treat farmers arbitrarily was not enough to make the law unconstitutional.

 

OTHER FACTS (interesting facts, related facts, trivia, etc.):

  • In agriculture the following eight crops are deemed “founder crops”: emmer wheat; einkorn wheat; hulled barley; peas; lentils; bitter vetch; chickpeas; and flax
  • Fruit farming began sometime between 6000 and 3000 B.C. (Figs were one of the first cultivated fruit crops)
  • Americans spend 10% of their income on food, which is the lowest of any country
  • Farming employs more than 24 million American workers (17% of the total workforce)

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