No matter where you stand on the unionization of farmworkers, you would have to agree that the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board did a disservice to Gerawan Farms and the United Farm Workers by bungling that dispute to the point that it would be laughable if it weren’t so serious.
But more than anything else, the ALRB did a disservice to the farmworkers it was allegedly trying to help.
Some background: In 1990 Gerawan workers voted in the UFW as their bargaining agent. Then, five years later, the union disappeared from the scene without bargaining for a contract.
That was weird enough, but in 2012 the UFW reappeared and demanded that the ALRB impose a contract on behalf of the farmworkers it had abandoned 17 years previous. The next year, 2013, the majority of farmworkers called for a decertification election to toss out the UFW.
An election was held, but the ALRB held off counting the ballots. The case went to an appeals court and then to the California Supreme Court.
The ALRB claimed that it was “impossible to know” what farmworkers were thinking when they called for the election. This was before the ballots were counted. Of course it was impossible to know without counting the ballots.
The appeals court then reminded the ALRB that it has lost sight of the importance of the union election. The ALRB appealed the case to the state Supreme Court, which agreed and — finally — ordered that the ballots be counted.
Mind you, this ineptitude spanned 26 years.
The UFW lost the election by a 5-to-1 margin, which could be expected, considering the bungling of the ALRB and the UFW.
There may be more bizarre cases in the annals of farm labor law, but we don’t know what it would be.
A union abandons its members for years and then reappears and imposes a contract and opposes an election sought by its members. At the same time the ALRB employs delay tactics to prevent a vote count.
Western Growers President and CEO Tom Nassif assessed the mess this way: “With a resounding vote against the union, we now know the reason behind the ALRB’s delay tactics, which lasted nearly five years.”
It’s time for the ALRB to review its performance in this case and explain to the California Legislature exactly what it does for either farmworkers or employers that warrants state funding.