published on April 5, 2016 - 9:25 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

Fowler Packing and Gerawan Farming are being supported by seven leading California grower associations who last week asked the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California to strike down provisions of newly-enacted legislation (AB 1513) that excludes the two Valley-based companies from protections intended to benefit all farmers and their workers.

AB 1513 provides to an entire class of California employers – but not Fowler and Gerawan – an affirmative defense to potentially ruinous class action litigation involving “non-productive time” wage and hour claims. But the legislation also provides a means to resolve these cases so as to provide larger and more timely back pay recoveries for workers than could be expected through litigation.

Fowler and Gerawan were “carved out” of this statute after the United Farm Workers (UFW) union lobbied state legislators. The Business Journal first covered the story in its Oct. 30, 2015 edition.

In an amicus brief filed on April 1 by the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), these seven grower organizations argue that AB 1513’s “carve outs” constitute legislative punishment and violate the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Attainder Clause.

Western Growers, California Fresh Fruit Association, the National Hmong-American Farmers, the African-American Farmers of California, California Farm Bureau Federation, the Fresno County Farm Bureau, and the Nisei Farmers League filed the “friend of the court” brief.

Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers, said that “it is unseemly and shameful that the legislature allowed the UFW to demand provisions that carve out two farm employers from a law that was otherwise thoughtfully crafted to get money to thousands of farm workers quickly and without subjecting employers to predatory class action lawsuits.”

Barry Bedwell, president of California Fresh Fruit Association, echoed these concerns. “In fact and in practice, these employers are exemplary in their relationships and interactions with employees, and they and their workers deserve the same opportunities this legislation affords to others,” Bedwell said.

“We appreciate that this state-wide coalition of growers recognizes the injustice of AB 1513 and stands with us to oppose this law,” said Dennis Parnagian, president of Fowler Packing.

In a brief filed on April 4, Fowler and Gerawan argued that AB 1513 also violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“When the Legislature justified throwing Fowler and Gerawan under the bus to avoid ‘blowing up’ a ‘grand compromise,’ it passed a law that was designed to punish these companies and their workers,” said the companies’ lawyer, David A. Schwarz.

“We appreciate in particular that three minority farmers’ rights organizations have lent their voice to this challenge,” said Dan Gerawan, co-owner of Gerawan Farming. “Their members understand from first-hand experience the importance of the U.S. Constitution’s promise of ‘equal protection under the laws.'”

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