Workers at Gerawan Farming have filed a petition with the state seeking to dissolve their rocky relationship with the United Farm Workers union.
The workers are asking the state's Agriculture Labor Relations Board to schedule a decertification election so that they can vote the union out.
If the state verifies the petition's signatures -- decertification advocates need a simple majority of the company's 2,600 workers -- then an election could be held as early as Wednesday, said Ed Blanco, an acting regional director of the ALRB.
But whether that happens remains to be seen. The state must first investigate allegations that Gerawan Farming -- one of the region's largest agriculture operations -- unlawfully coerced its workers to sign the decertification petition.
Adding to the dispute, Fresno County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Hamilton issued a preliminary injunction against Gerawan this week to stop the company from encouraging and circulating a decertification petition.
Blanco said the ALRB might block the election and dismiss the petition, a move supported by the UFW.
"There is no question that this decertification needs to be thrown out," said Armando Elenes, national vice president of the UFW. "They (Gerawan) don't want a union contract, that has been made very clear."
An attorney representing the farming company dismissed the allegations.
"It is standard practice for the UFW to make allegations against companies when they realize employees truly do not wish to be represented by the UFW," said Fresno attorney Ron Barsamian. "Such allegations are attempts to get any election sought by farmworkers blocked pending the resolution of the allegations."
Tension between the union and Gerawan has been simmering for months.
Although the union won the right to bargain for the workers more than 20 years ago, it had not aggressively pursued contract negotiations until last year. Now, both sides are locked in mandatory mediation, the result of which will be a new employee contract.
But that effort could be sidelined if Gerawan gets its way. The farming company has filed a motion with ALRB to suspend the mediation process, pending the outcome of the decertification election.
"The vast majority of our employees never voted for the UFW and did not work here when the union last stood for an election," co-owner Dan Gerawan said. "The UFW's absurd allegations are the last gasp of a declining union that returns after two decades to impose itself on the industry's highest-paid employees and then makes a desperate attempt to rob those employees of a fundamental right to choose."
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