California Farm Workers Continue Fight to Decertify UFW as Their Union

California Farm Workers Continue Fight to Decertify UFW as Their Union

California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board was created in 1975to insure farm workers had the right to unionize and choose their ownrepresentatives. Now the same board appears to be slow-walking attemptsby farm workers to get rid of a union they don’t want.

Steven Greenhut, writing for UT San Diego, saysabout 50 farm workers were politely ignored this week when they askedthe board to help them choose their own union leaders. In fact, theworkers have already voted, but the ballots have remained uncounted forfive months.

The issue goes back to 1990 when workers at Gerawan Farming, thenation’s largest grower of peaches, voted to unionize under the UnitedFarm Workers. The vote was eventually certified by the ALRB in 1992.That’s when something very strange happened. The UFW simply disappeared.They didn’t collect dues and they didn’t represent workers. The Gerawanfamily never heard another word from them for twenty years.

Then, out of nowhere, the Gerawan family received a letter saying the UFW was ready to negotiate a new contract. Dan Gerawan toldCNBC, “I had to read the letter twice to believe it.” After a 20 yearunexplained absence, the UFW wanted to carry on as if nothing hadhappened, including demanding implementation of a new contract whichmandated 3 percent of the wages should go to the UFW.

Despite the long absence, the unionization certification from 1992 isstill binding, which means Gerawan is required to negotiate with UFW.Under current California law, contract negotiations are subject tobinding arbitration before the ALRB. If the ALRB sides with the UFW’sproposal, there is nothing the company can do.

Some workers at Gerawan didn’t like the UFW’s return or the dues theywere expected to pay in order to keep their jobs. A battle to decertifythe union began last year when workers collected more than 2,700signatures to de-certify the union. The ALRB ruled that some of the signatures had been forged and that therefore not enough signatures were included with the petition.

After the first petition failed, the workers opposed to the UFW started over. This time they submitted 3,000 signatures, but the ALRB General Counsel in Visalia, CA, Silas Shawver, denied the petition. Shawver’s decision was overruled bythe Sacramento ALRB which cleared the way for a decertification vote.Then Shawver announced he would block the vote.

But after hundreds of workers showed up and protested outside theALRB office in Visalia, Shawver reversed course and on November 1, 2013announced that a legitimate showing of interest in decertification hadbeen achieved. A vote was taken a few days later on November 5th.

The UFW immediately went into action to bring the counting of ballots to a halt. It challenged the legitimacy of 800 sealed ballotson unknown grounds. It also filed 32 complaints about the electionprocess itself. Gerawan filed seven complaints of its own. The result hasbeen a mess of issues which must be resolved before the votes can becounted. That process has now dragged on for five months.

But while the union wanted to slow-walk the ALRB counting of worker’svotes, it wanted to fast track the contract negotiations it had earlierdemanded. On Nov. 22nd, the UFW filed a temporary restraining order inan attempt to force Gerawan into negotiations. On Nov. 27th, a SuperiorCourt judge in Sacramento denied the UFW’s request.

In February, Gerawan employee Silvia Lopez, who helped lead the effort to collect signatures for the decertification vote, filed a federal law suit demanding the ALRB count the votes from the November 5th election.The Gerawan-UFW battle has become one of the most high profile laborissues since Wisconsin eliminated some collective bargaining in 2011.