Feuding Fresno County supervisors can't agree on wording for Gerawan farmworkers vote count

Posted by John Ellis on December 5, 2013 

It looked like a slam dunk Tuesday for Fresno County supervisors, who had before them a resolution urging that the votes be counted in a union decertification election at Gerawan Farming.

Supervisor Phil Larson, a Republican, and board Chair Henry R. Perea, a Democrat, brought forth the resolution together.

Silvia Lopez, a 15-year Gerawan employee who has organized the decertification campaign, tearfully commented to board members.

It was a perfect kumbaya moment in the making.

The board then proceeded to argue and debate for more than 20 minutes before passing two different versions of the resolution.

And, confusing matters more, it appears both resolutions are on their way to the Agriculture Labor Relations Board’s Sacramento offices, as well as to Gov. Jerry Brown.

At issue was a 10-word addition Supervisor Debbie Poochigian wanted. Perea said it was a deal killer.

Gerawan workers last month voted to determine if they want to be represented by the United Farm Workers union. But the votes have yet to be counted. The ALRB impounded them pending an investigation into unfair labor practices by Gerawan, one of the largest fruit growers in the San Joaquin Valley.

The crux of the resolution said “we urge those votes be tabulated as a continuation of the civic process, rather than be allowed to languish uncounted.”

Then, the concluding paragraph said the board “hereby recognizes December 3, 2013 as ‘Valley Farmworkers Let Your Votes Be Counted Day.’”

But Poochigian requested that the final paragrah read that the board “hereby recognizes Fresno County as a right-to-work county and recognizes December 3, 2013 as ‘Valley Farmworkers Let Your Votes Be Counted Day.’”

Supervisors Larson, Andreas Borgeas and Judy Case all supported the change. Not Perea.

“I’m not with you on that,” he said. “That’s an entirely different thing.”

The connotation of “right-to-work,” the board seemed to agree, was that workers should be able to work and have the choice of whether or not to join a union.

Perea said it changed what the resolution was trying to accomplish — asking that the Gerawan votes be counted — and instead politicized the issue by stating that the board officially recognizes Fresno County as a right-to-work county.

For the record: Fresno County workers are heavily unionized.

Lopez stood silently at the lectern as the debate dragged on.

In the end, the board voted on the resolution with Poochigian’s proposed word changes. It passed 4-1, with Perea opposed. Then a second vote was taken on the resolution without the wording changes. It passed 5-0.

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