After five years of waiting, workers at Gerawan Farming who voted to get rid of the United Farm Workers (“UFW”) as their union may finally get to have their ballots counted in what had been a highly disputed election. Yesterday, the California Supreme Court denied a request from the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (“ALRB”) to review a lower court’s ruling that found fault with the ALRB’s decision to impound the ballots.
As we reported here earlier, in 1992, the UFW was certified by the Board as the collective bargaining representative of Gerawan’s agricultural employees. After the certification, however, the UFW vanished from the scene, making no contact for nearly two decades. In October 2012, the UFW sent a letter to Gerawan reasserting its status as the certified bargaining representative of their agricultural employees and demanding Gerawan bargain in good faith. An employee, Silvia Lopez, dissatisfied with the UFW’s leave of absence filed a petition to decertify the UFW.
Ultimately, an election was held; however, rather than tallying the ballots, the Board ordered the ballots impounded, pending the resolution of the election objections and complaints of unfair labor practices. The administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found that Gerawan’s alleged unfair labor practices “tainted” the decertification process and made it “impossible to know” if the signatures collected by Silvia Lopez and other workers represented their “true sentiments.”
Gerawan challenged the Board's findings of unfair labor practices and the decision to set aside the election. The appellate court vacated the ALRB’s decision, holding the Board had erred in several of its findings of unfair labor practices and had failed to apply the correct standard of review applicable to determining an election challenge. The appellate court decided the “outcome-determinative standard” should have been applied instead of the “taint-on-the-petition” approach. The outcome-determinative standard requires the Board to scrutinize whether or not the alleged misconduct tended to interfere with employee free choice to such an extent that it affected the results of the election. The appellate court further held that the Board’s approach was erroneously one-sided since it focused almost exclusively on punishing the employer without considering the protection of workers’ right to choose by a secret ballot election.
COUNSEL TO MANAGEMENT:
CONGRATULATIONS TO RON BARSAMIAN AND HIS ENTIRE TEAM AS WELL AS GERAWAN FARMING FOR STAYING THE COURSE. This is an excellent win for the industry and a rare example of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (“ALRA”), which has leaned mostly anti-employer over the years, working in favor of both the employer and employee as it should and upholding one of the law’s fundamental principles, which is to provide agricultural workers the ability to choose (or, here, not choose) their labor representation through a secret ballot election process. Dan Gerawan, co-owner of the family run company, told the Fresno Bee, “It is a good day for democracy, and a long overdue vindication of the right to vote, and to have those votes counted…We hope that the ALRB will follow the court’s direction and immediately count the ballots.”
However, this saga is not finished. The Court has sent the matter back and instructed the ALRB to consider all of the relevant facts and circumstances in order to fairly determine whether there was misconduct committed by Gerawan and if the alleged misconduct tended to interfere with or affect election results, including a fair and reasonable consideration of the number of votes counted for and against decertification. Employers that have questions concerning the bargaining rights of both their company and their employees should contact the experts at The Saqui Law Group.
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