SACRAMENTO — A state lawmaker bemoaned as “farcical” an Assembly panel’s party-line defeat of his bill to give workers certain rights in cases when the state imposes a contract mediation on a farm.
Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, said Democrats on the lower chamber’s Labor and Employment committee left farmworkers like those at Gerawan Farming Inc. with no recourse against perceived overreaches by the state’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board.
Patterson’s bill — which came in response to a more than two-year labor dispute at the Fresno-based Gerawan — would have enabled workers to attend mediation sessions to gain an understanding of the terms of their contract and then vote on whether to ratify the contract.
Assembly Bill 1389 would have also required the ALRB to nullify a contract if the union abandons the workers for three or more years.
But a majority on the committee sided with the United Farm Workers, which argued the legislation would conflict with decades of California agricultural labor law and subject farmworkers to further intimidation from employers, according to an Assembly bill analysis.
“We really saw a farcical circus today, where farmworkers who were pleading for justice … were basically patronized, patted on the head and sent out the back,” Patterson told reporters after the panel’s May 6 decision.
“These individuals here (on the committee) simply said to these very good people, ‘Shut up and go away,’” he said. “That’s unconscionable.”
UFW officials did not respond to an email from the Capital Press seeking comment about the bill’s defeat.
Gerawan and the UFW have been locked in a legal battle, as the fruit producer is challenging the constitutionality of the ALRB’s move to force a labor contract on the company.
Many of the workers at Gerawan are trying to decertify the UFW, which won representation at the farm in 1990 but never negotiated a contract. The union reappeared in 2012 but failed to reach an agreement with the company, and the matter was put before a mediator.
Workers voted in November 2013 on whether to be represented by UFW, but the ballots were impounded pending a state investigation of irregularities that were alleged during the petition drive.
More than 100 witnesses testified at a hearing before a state administrative law judge which concluded in March, and a decision on the matter may be issued by late May or early June, according to Paul Bauer, an attorney for Silvia Lopez, one of the workers trying to oust the UFW.
Meanwhile, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is considering a motion to dismiss Lopez’ year-old federal lawsuit alleging the ALRB violated the civil rights of workers by refusing to count the ballots, Bauer said recently.
While Lopez and her allies say a vast majority of Gerawan workers want to be rid of the UFW and the prospect of paying union dues, the farm’s employees have been conspicuous on both sides of a public-relations battle that has gained national attention.
On May 5, some Gerawan workers were joined by other farmworkers and labor leaders at a UFW-sponsored protest at the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the Americans for Tax Reform, which was behind a series of billboard ads in the Fresno area in support of the anti-union effort.
The following day, Lopez and dozens of other workers held a rally at the state Capitol in support of AB 1389, the Fair Contracts for California Farmworkers Act, and then attended the committee hearing.
“If there’s nobody out there to help us … I don’t know what’s going to happen with all the farmworkers, thousands of farmworkers,” Lopez said at the news conference, from which video footage was distributed by Patterson’s office. “It makes me a little bit disappointed.”