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Board overrules official, orders union election

Tim Hearden
The state labor board will allow workers at a Central California farm to vote Nov. 5 on whether to decertify the United Farm Workers, which won representation at the farm in 1990 but never negotiated a contract for the workers.

SACRAMENTO — A state board has overturned a labor official’s second denial of a farmworker bid to vote on whether to be represented by the United Farm Workers.

California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board on Nov. 1 ordered an election for Fresno-based Gerawan Farming’s roughly 2,600 peak-season employees to take place on Nov. 5.

The ballots were to be impounded pending a state investigation of irregularities that allegedly took place during the petition drive.

The board’s ruling came one day after ALRB regional director Silas Shawver told Gerawan workers that he would not grant a vote despite a stack of new signatures handed in by petitioner Silvia Lopez. Shawver denied Lopez’s initial petition on behalf of a group of workers on Sept. 25, ruling that they failed to gather enough valid signatures.

The official said in a letter Oct. 31 that alleged improprieties in the initial petition drive “make it impossible to conduct an election in an atmosphere where employees can exercise their choice in a free and uncoerced manner.”

ALRB officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Lopez’s attorney, Paul Bauer, called Shawver’s latest ruling “unbelievable,” adding that it came less than 24 hours after the official issued a statement that the farmworkers demonstrated a “showing of interest” to hold an election.

“We were shocked that we received such a quick decision from the board, but ... they have an independent mind to make sure the right result occurs,” Bauer said. “It was definitely a surprise, but we know there’s still a long road to go after the election to make sure the ballots are actually counted and revealed.”

Armando Elenes, a UFW national vice president based in Delano, Calif., expressed disappointment in the board’s decision.

“This is unprecedented with so many different, egregious violations” committed by the petitioners, asserted Elenes. “I haven’t seen this type of violations in all my years as a union organizer. It’s just incredible that the board is allowing this to happen.”

The workers are trying to decertify the UFW, which won representation at Gerawan Farms in 1990 but never negotiated a contract. The union reappeared last year but failed to reach an agreement with the company, and the matter is now before a mediator.

When Lopez submitted more than 2,000 signatures asking for a decertification vote in September, the ALRB found that not all the signatures could be verified and some appeared to have been falsified, spokesman Eduardo Blanco said then. In addition, Shawver found that the company may have improperly participated in the petition drive by having supervisors seek signatures from workers as they passed out paychecks, he said.

Bauer and Ronald Barsamian, an attorney for Gerawan, have denied there was any falsification of signatures or tampering by the company. They argue that under state law, the ALRB should have allowed the election and impounded the ballots while any alleged irregularities were investigated.

Bauer said Shawver at first refused to accept Lopez’s latest petition, arguing it was handed in too late, but his decision was reversed by the board. He said he was growing concerned that too many delays would prevent a vote from happening at all.

“As the timing goes on and this moves into November, we lose the peak” number of employees, he said. “If they’re not at peak, we run the risk that the election doesn’t happen because they’re supposed to be at peak.”

Online

Gerawan Farming: http://www.prima.com

United Farm Workers: http://www.ufw.org

Agricultural Labor Relations Board: http://www.alrb.ca.gov



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