Dozens of field workers employed by Gerawan Farming held a rally Monday afternoon in front of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board office in Visalia, demanding that the state agency allow them to vote on a proposal to kick out the United Farm Workers union.
Holding "Let us vote" signs, more than 100 people chanted and cheered for about an hour and half.
The mood was festive, with cars honking on west Walnut Avenue near Mooney Boulevard.
At one point, demonstrators chanted "Si se puede" -- a dig at the UFW's famous slogan for "Yes we can."
UFW national vice president Armando Elenes dismissed the demonstration as "Gerawan inspired."
But Gerawan Farming co-owner Dan Gerawan said he did not know that the demonstration was being held until a reporter told him about it.
The company, a grower of peaches, plums, nectarines and grapes, employs about 2,600 field workers and pays $10 an hour, he said. "It the highest in the industry."
A petition seeking a decertification election was filed last week with the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, which must grant permission for an election to take place.
The petition is under review and staff will decide by Wednesday if enough valid signatures have been obtained, ALRB's regional director Silas Shawver said Monday. If ruled valid, an election would take place Friday, he said.
Silvia Lopez, 37, a 15-year employee of Gerawan Farming, filed the petition with the help of her lawyers.
"I have friends and family who work for the companies that have the UFW," she said. "They have very bad experiences."
She said she and others organized the demonstration out of concern that the ALRB would not approve the petition despite gathering more than enough signatures.
A majority of employees must sign the petition for it to be valid.
Her lawyer, Paul Bauer of Fresno, said less than 1% of Gerawan's employees today were there when the UFW was voted in more than 20 years ago.
Gerawan's lawyer, Ron Barsamian, said after more than two decades of saying nothing, the union last year sought to negotiate a contract. But the union and Gerawan failed to reach an agreement and the matter is in mediation.
Gerawan said employees tell him they dislike the union re-emerging: "Then, suddenly, the UFW reappears to tell our employees they'll have to pay 3% of their pay as dues or be fired," he said.
Elenes, the UFW national vice president, said that the Agricultural Labor Relations Board on Saturday said the petition didn't have enough valid signatures to be approved,
"It showed me that the majority of employees do want the union," he said.
But farm laborer Noel Hernandez of Reedley, a two-year employee, said he wants to be left alone.
"We don't need anybody representing us," he said. "They're going to be taking money away from us."
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6104, email@example.com or @fb_LewGriswold on Twitter.