Employees of Gerawan Farms rally in favor of their employer at a Downtown Fresno gathering in 2013. File Photo
Written by David Castellon
State appeals court judges ordered the California Labor Relations Board today to vacate it decision not to count votes by a group of Fresno County agricultural workers to break with the United Farm Workers Union.
“The matter is remanded to the board to reconsider its decision regarding the election in a manner consistent with this opinion, with such reconsideration to be based on the corrected findings and legal standard set forth herein, and to include a fair and reasonable consideration of the ballot tally,” states the unanimous opinion by the three California Fifth Appellate District judges who heard the case filed by Fresno-based Gerawan Farming, Inc., one of the largest fruit producers in the world.
The case stemmed from a labor dispute in which Gerawan workers voted in November 2013 to end their association with the UFW to provide collective bargaining. But the CLRB determined the vote to be invalid, accusing Gerawan officials of influencing the outcome of the election in the company’s favor. That lead to years of litigation filed by Gerawan that included a California Supreme Court ruling in November of last year against the company.
But the ruling issued Wednesday by judges Herbert Levy, Jennifer Detjen and Brad Hill states they found insufficient evidence that Gerawan was involved in unfair labor practices leading up to the employee election.
“This, alone would warrant returning the case to the board to reconsider its remedy. More than that, however, it appears that the board applied an incomplete or inadequate legal standard in reaching its decision to set aside the election” by failing to meaningfully consider whether a reasonable basis existed to conclude that if Gerawan had acted wrong, would those actions have interfered with the employees’ ability to exercise free choice in the election, it continues.
“In essence, the board so narrowly focused on punishing the employer that it effectively lost sight of the correlative statutory value of protecting the farm workers’ right to choose.
“This has been a long time coming. We are encouraged and pleased to see the court account for the most important opinion in this entire matter, the prerogative of the employees,” George Radanovich, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association, said in a written statement.
The Fresno-based association works on behalf of growers, shippers, marketers and others involved in fruit in the state to support legislative and regulatory policies favorable to the industry.
“Today’s court action would not have occurred without the determined effort of Gerawan Farming, Inc., the Gerawan family, and in particular, company President Dan Gerawan for defending his company and his employee’s right to choose.” Radanovich’s statement continues.
“Finally, sunlight has been cast onto this injustice and the farm workers’ voice will be heard..”
Officials with the ALRB couldn’t be reached immediately for comment, nor could a spokesman for the UWF, which wasn’t a defendant in the case.
U.S. Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, also chimed in, saying in a written statement that “This moment is the next step in the most important civil rights battle of our time. More than 2,600 immigrant farm workers from the Central Valley cast their ballots to determine their own future. Those votes were locked up tight and have been stowed away by the ALRB — the same agency whose job it is to protect the rights of farm workers.
“These hard-working men and women know exactly why their ballots were taken and they have spent countless hours fighting for their fundamental right to have them counted so their voices can be heard loud and clear. Today is victory for them.”