A quarter-century after the United Farm Workers won the right to unionize workers at Reedley-based Gerawan Farming Inc., the effort died quickly last Thursday (Sept. 28) when the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board decertified the union a week after ballots in a 2013 decertification election spearheaded by workers were finally counted and showed the union on the losing end of a 1,098-197 count.
“The Gerawan family congratulates our employees on today’s decision,” the company said in a press statement. “We are inspired by their struggle to vindicate their right to vote and to decide for themselves whether they wanted a union.
“We are humbled by their refusal to abandon that fight, in spite of the ALRB’s multi-million dollar effort to destroy ballots rather than to count them.”
The ALRB’s decision, on a 3-0 vote, is the latest in war of tug between the company, its 5,000 employees and the UFW.
The board had accepted the findings of an administrative law judge that found repeated violations by Gerawan and some in the agricultural industry in providing financial support for workers who opposed the union.
The board held onto almost 3,000 ballots that were cast in the 2013 decertification election (18 were void, and 660 were challenged) as it upheld an administrative law judge’s recommendation that the board set aside the election and dismiss the decertification petition based on Gerawan’s multiple, unfair labor practices.
The company appealed successfully to the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Fresno, and the state Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of that decision by the ALRB.
The appeals court asked the board to count the impounded ballots and to determine if the margin of victory from the count was a “significant factor” in determining whether Gerawan’s misconduct had an affect on the election.
“The burden is not met merely by proving that misconduct did in fact occur, but rather by specific evidence demonstrating that it interfered with the employees’ exercise of their free choice to such an extent that the conduct changed the results of the election,” the board said in its 14-page decision.
UFW national vice president Armando Elenes questioned the ALRB’s decision.
“This ALRB decision tells employers that they can get away with repeated and serious lawbreaking,” Elenes told The Los Ángeles Times.
The board did order Gerawan to “cease and desist from interfering with, restraining or coercing” any farmworker from exercising their labor rights.
It also requires the company to post and distribute a notice to all its workers in which Gerawan admits to violating the state Agricultural Labor Relations Act by directly dealing with farmworkers who were represented by the UFW, assisting with a decertification petition, and, granting a wage increase prior to a representative election.