A hug is shared at the conclusion of a vote count to decertify the UFW as representatives of employees of Gerawan Farming. Photo by David Castellon
Written by David Castellon
The Agricultural Labor Relations Board has certified ballots cast by field workers for Gerawan Farming, Inc. to decertify their union nearly five years after they voted to do it.
“I cannot believe what just happened today. The ALRB certified our votes and results. I am speechless and beyond excited and happy, because justice was finally done,” states a written statement issued on behalf of Silvia Lopez, the Gerawan employee who filed the petition with the state agency to decertify the United Farm Workers in representing her and her fellow employees.
That election for the Reedley-based farming and packing company occurred on Nov. 5, 2013, but the ALRB confiscated the ballots without counting them. That was followed by worker protests against the state agency, a legal battle and the ALRB accusing Gerawan of exercising undue influence to have its workers vote against the union, while Gerawan accused ALRB leaders of unfair practices favoring the union, which included forcing the workers and the company into a collective bargaining agreement that neither wanted.
Gerawan strongly denied those claims, and officials for the company noted that in 2015 California’s Fifth District Court of Appeal in Fresno declared California’s Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation statute unconstitutional and set aside the ALRB’s order to force a collective bargaining agreement and to impose the UFW on Gerawan and its field workers.
In May of this year, the Fifth Appellate District reversed the ALRB’s decision to set aside the Gerawan employees’ election. As a result, the ALRB finally counted the ballots on Sept. 18 and announced a sizable victory for the field workers who wanted to decertify the union, with a 1,098-197 vote.
ALRB officials didn’t attempt to count another 635 ballots that had been challenged, as they wouldn’t have made a difference in the election’s outcome.
But the matter didn’t end there, as the ALRB still had to certify the election it had previously decertified. That happened on Thursday.
Despite the appellate court dismissing most of ALRB’s claims to justify decertifying the union election, the board continued to accuse Gerawan of some wrongdoing prior to the election, but “The board evaluated the record on remand, and found that the unlawful and/or objectionable conduct committed by Gerawan did not interfere with the employees’ free choice to such an extent that it affected the outcome of the election. Therefore, the Board certified that a majority of the valid ballots were cast for ‘no union’ in the representation election, and that the UFW lost its prior status as the exclusive representative of the employees for the purpose of collective bargaining.”
Dan Gerawan, co-owner of Gerawan Farming, dismissed the ALRB’s continued claims of wrongdoing by his company.
“I’m not even going to lower myself to pretending it needs to be challenged,” he said, accusing the state board of being strongly pro-UFW and of injecting the comments about his company in the vote certification ruling to try to save face.
“And how can they save face in the face of the final vote count?”
Calls to the UFW’s media line and to its offices in Keene, Delano and Madera went unanswered this afternoon.
“This order represents the vindication of workers’ right to organize themselves and use their collective strength to become the captains of their own economic future. The desire of the workers to be free from forced union representation, as expressed in their votes at the ballot box, is the purest expression of the guarantee of farmworker civil rights, as expressed in the Agricultural Labor Relations Act,” states an email from Fresno attorney Anthony P. Raimondo, who represents Lopez.
“We hope this serves as a signal to lawmakers and bureaucratic agencies to work to put protection of free choice and due process at the forefront of future legislative and rule-making efforts,” wrote George Radanovich, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association.
For his part, Dan Garawan said it came down to workers wanting their voices heard, and now, “It’s over, after a long struggle.”