Higher court sides with farmworkers against ALRB secrecy

Farmworker Lupe Garcia just won a big win for all California farmworkers, as well as for journalists and for employers who treat their workers fairly. The victory came from a unanimous three-judge panel in Fresno on May 9.

The Fifth Court of Appeal ruled that farmworkers have a right to challenge the ALRB’s secretive “mandatory meeting and conciliation” (MMC) practices. It reversed a lower trial court that had favored the ALRB, finding a state law to be unconstitutional.

That was a quick ruling to the case the court heard on April 20, in which the ALRB and State of California argued, among other things, that farmworkers should “never” have a right to observe mandatory mediation meetings that determine their fates. Pick Justice was there with a spirited protest. The UFW didn’t bother to show up.

The three-judge panel ruled that Lupe Garcia, like any farmworker, has a right to be in a legal case and that the ALRB was wrong to keep the process secret from the workers. The judges ruled that Garcia’s case may proceed in the state Superior Court, to answer the question: Is the ALRB violating the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by banning farmworkers and journalists from observing MMC proceedings?

Here’s why today’s decision is so important:

  1. It declares a state law unconstitutional for depriving the public’s right to the courts. This is a major rebuke of the MMC law, which was engineered to limit public scrutiny of ALRB decisions.
  2. It means that workers like Lupe Garcia, who are shut out of the MMC process, have the right to go to court. Because the MMC law denies workers the right to be “party” to a legal action in a lower court, farmworkers almost certainly have the right to file in superior courts. In this way, workers can challenge a final decision of the ALRB.
  3. That means that for the first time, Superior Courthouse doors are open for farmworkers to challenge the ALRB’s secrecy in MMC proceedings – and potentially other ALRB actions.

Click here for a copy of today’s ruling: F069896 – Opinion