Court says government can ban workers from meetings to force contracts on them

The State of California has the right to prevent farmworkers from observing government meetings where decisions are made to force contracts on them, a court has ruled.

“The secretive Agricultural Labor Relations Board has the right to prevent us from observing while government officials and UFW operatives force an “agreement” on farmworkers while denying us the right to vote,” Pick Justice leader Silvia Lopez said of the June 26 Fresno superior court decision.

In a news release, employer Gerawan Farming also criticized the court ruling. The state now has “the right to bar agricultural workers from silently observing a state-directed procedure that imposes a labor ‘agreement’ on Gerawan and its employees without even letting the workers vote on it,” the employer said.

ALRB is one of the most secretive state agencies in California. Its three-person board is rife with allegations of corruption and conflicts-of-interests, and is currently under a whistleblower investigation. ALRB Chairman Genevieve Shiroma leaves a trail of ethics problems in her wake.

The agency is widely regarded as a government enforcement arm for the politically favored UFW – against both farmworkers who oppose the UFW, or who support non-UFW unions.

For years, ALRB has avoided or refused to answer questions from journalists about its covert work for the UFW. The California government pulled down a 2015 audit showing chronic waste and abuse inside ALRB. Earlier this year, Forbes called for the FBI to investigate the board.

ALRB has spent more than $10 million to prevent the counting of ballots that Gerawan workers cast in 2013 to de-certify the UFW.

The latest controversy

“The Court held that this forced contracting procedure, known as Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation (MMC), is a ‘private dispute’ between ‘private parties’ with a ‘private neutral,'” Gerawan said, disagreeing with the decision. “We did not agree to arbitrate anything. Neither did our employees. MMC was imposed by force of law, and against our will, by the ALRB,” said co-owner Dan Gerawan.

The ALRB and UFW are in a rough place because they depend on workers fighting their employees, and vice-versa. At Gerawan and other farms that pay workers well and provide extra incentives and opportunities, there is no need for the obsolete UFW, whose business model is built on class struggle and permanent conflict between labor and management.

Lupe Garcia has been fighting ALRB abuse for years

“The Court affirmed the ALRB’s 2013 decision that it had the power to exclude workers from ‘on-the-record’ MMC proceedings,” according to the Gerawan release.

“The ALRB believes it can set aside elections demanded by workers, impound the ballots without counting them, and force workers into a contract with a union that has abandoned its members for decades,” said Paul Bauer, counsel for Lupe Garcia, who has worked at Gerawan for years. Garcia asked the Court to order the ALRB to open the MMC proceedings to Gerawan workers.

“The ALRB and UFW depend on secrecy. They can’t exist under public scrutiny. That’s why they’ve been fighting to deny us our right to have our votes counted,” said Lopez. “That’s why we started Pick Justice in the first place.”

“It is unfortunate that the court did not recognize the importance of public scrutiny of public proceedings where a public agency is dictating private agreements between our company and our employees,” said Gerawan.

“Mr. Garcia asked for open hearings. So did Gerawan. The ALRB and the UFW asked for secrecy. We look forward to the Court of Appeal’s vindication of these basic First Amendment safeguards,” said Bauer.