Farmworkers reject UFW in long-fought election

Workers protest to have their votes counted in a UFW decertification election. The Sept. 18 count was 5-to-1 to decertify United Farm Workers Union from representing the workers.

With ballots counted five years after an election, farmworkers at California’s largest peach and stone fruit farm have overwhelmingly rejected the United Farm Workers Union.

Workers at Gerawan Farms, in Fresno, voted 1,098 to 197, a 5-to-1 margin, in favor of decertifying the union as their representative, according to a Sept. 18 count by the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board. Another 635 disputed ballots were not counted.

The election was Nov. 5, 2013, but ALRB impounded the ballots at UFW’s request, concluding that it was “impossible to know” whether the workers’ request for an election represented their “true sentiments” when it came time to vote and alleging Gerawan manipulated the vote.

On Sept. 11, 2018, the California Supreme Court upheld a lower court order to count the ballots, rejecting arguments by UFW and the ALRB. It is one of the largest union decertification elections in California agricultural labor history.

Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers in Irvine, said it took the state’s highest court to force ALRB to do the right thing.

“We now know the reason behind the ALRB’s delay tactics, which lasted nearly five years. The ALRB knew or believed the outcome of the vote was ‘No Union’ and was attempting to shield the UFW from the humiliation of its irrelevance,” Nassif said.

“It is clear the UFW does not represent the voice of California’s farmworkers and the results of this election must compel the state to stop acting as a surrogate of the UFW and move instead to guarantee justice for all agricultural workers,” he said.

The ALRB will next rule on the disputed ballots and certify final results before taking up the broader issue of the fairness of the election.

“Our employees have been waiting since November 2013 for their votes to be counted. After a historic struggle, they achieved that right today, in spite of the efforts by the UFW and millions of taxpayer dollars spent by the ALRB to deny them that right,” Gerawan Farms said in a statement.

The right of workers to choose their representation is at the heart of what the ALRB is “designed to protect,” the election is a “ringing endorsement” of that right and a “repudiation of concerted, unlawful and anti-democratic efforts to deny them that right,” Gerawan Farms said.

Armando Elenes, UFW national vice president, told the Fresno Bee he was disappointed, not surprised and that the election should be thrown out because the ALRB found Gerawan committed multiple unfair labor practices.

George Radanovich, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association, applauded the outcome, saying farmworkers have a fundamental right to choose whether to be represented.

“The Agriculture Labor Relations Board together with the United Farm Workers joined to work against the true voice of these employees, their votes,” Radanovich said.

He joined Gerawan in asking the ALRB to certify the election results and decertify the UFW. They called on the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown to ensure ALRB’s violation of farmworkers’ freedom to choose never happens again.

UFW won an election at Gerawan in 1990. Five years later, workers rebuffed UFW-negotiated contracts. Gerawan contends the union abandoned the workers for more than 17 years. UFW reappeared in 2012 when a new state mandatory mediation law allowed the union to impose a contract. Workers didn’t like that and chose the decertification election.

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