On May 14, 2018, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (“ALRB” or the “Board”) issued a decision and order affirming an Administrative Law Judge’s (“ALJ”) finding that the United Farm Workers (“UFW”) engaged in threats and coercive activities, violating employees’ rights guaranteed by the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (“ALRA”).
In 2013, dissatisfied with the poor management style of certain members of the UFW – mainly the contract administrator Mr. Casimiro Alvarez ("Alvarez") – employees of Monterey Mushrooms, Inc. (“Monterey Mushrooms”) drafted and circulated petitions seeking the resignation of Alvarez and others. Alvarez then held meetings with members of the UFW “Ranch Committee” and crew representatives to instruct them to speak with their crews regarding the petitions, and he personally confronted specific employees about their involvement. Alvarez further instructed employees that they could not gather signatures at work or outside of work, put employees under surveillance, and explicitly threatened to terminate an employee and place another on the “burn list.”
On August 4, 2017, the ALJ found the UFW engaged in unfair labor practices by threatening, interrogating, and surveilling employees engaged in protected activity under the ALRA. The ALJ also found the UFW created the impression that an employee's protected activities would be placed under surveillance. The Board affirmed the ALJ’s finding that, among other activities, circulation of a petition advocating for a change in union personnel and collecting signatures constituted protected activity.
In addition, the Board affirmed that a reasonable employee would perceive the statements the UFW members made to the employees as threats, adding that the context in which these statements were made enhanced the coercive nature of the threats. The Board also affirmed the ALJ’s finding that UFW and its agents’ surveillance of protected activity was unlawful. The UFW argued that it had a legitimate purpose for the surveillance – to enforce Monterey Mushroom’s solicitation policy. The Board was not persuaded by this argument since the members conducting the surveillance did not have responsibility for enforcing employer’s policy, and the allegation was unsupported by the record.
However, the Board did affirm the dismissal of the charging parties’ allegations that UFW’s conduct in excluding certain employees from crew meetings, disciplining employees, and instructing employees to ignore other employees’ attempts to persuade them to join the movement against management violated the ALRA. The Board concluded employee exclusion from the crew meetings was not a violation of the ALRA because it did not affect the employees’ employment status, as the employees did not suffer a loss in pay, employment opportunity, or any employment benefit as a result of being excluded from the meeting.
COUNSEL TO MANAGEMENT:
This case is another reminder that union representatives must respect the right of the employees that they represent to engage in protected activity and comes after a recent $1.2 million judgment against the UFW. Though the UFW is likely to appeal this decision, it represents another win for employers and employees who dislike the direction the union has taken. If you have any questions or concerns regarding union activity and employer rights, please contact the experts at The Saqui Law Group.