Fresno County judge spurns imposition of Gerawan worker contract

The Fresno BeeJune 5, 2014 

GERAWAN

Gerawan Farming employees demonstrate in front of ALRB office in Visalia, seeking approval by ALRB to vote on proposal to remove United Farm Workers union as their labor bargaining representative on Monday, September 23, 2013.

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The Agricultural Labor Relations Board won't be allowed to impose a disputed contract on nearly 3,000 field workers for Gerawan Farming, Fresno County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Hamilton ruled this week.

In April, the state sought a temporary restraining order against Gerawan, saying the Fresno County farming company was violating the law by not implementing a new employee contract. The three-year contract was hammered out late last year as part of the state's mandatory mediation process.

The United Farm Workers union is the workers' representative and its officials have said the workers stand to benefit from higher wages and other benefits.

But many of the workers are divided over being union members. A group of Gerawan workers won the right in November to hold a special election to decide if the union would continue to represent them. The results of that election have been in limbo after Gerawan, one of the largest fruit growers in the San Joaquin Valley, was accused of unfair labor practices.

Silvia Lopez, a 15-year Gerawan employee and union opponent, praised the judge's decision saying: "My coworkers and I are very happy that the judge denied the ALRB's request to force a contract many of us don't want and was negotiated by a union many of us are trying to get rid of."

An ALRB spokesman said late Thursday the agency disagreed with the judge's decision and was weighing whether to appeal it.

Hamilton, who rejected the state's request on Monday, said imposing the mediated contract could create a long-term obstacle to an employee election.

"Such an election, however, is, at this point a clear objective of numerous Gerawan employees," Hamilton wrote.

Gerawan's lawyers have pushed the ALRB to count the decertification election ballots and resolve the issue of union representation once and for all. The ALRB has impounded the ballots at its Visalia office, pending the investigation of unfair labor practices against Gerawan.

Ron Barsamian, a Gerawan attorney, said he is hoping the election results are tabulated sooner rather than later.

"We are pleased with the judge's decision," Barsamian said. "But we find it very disturbing that the ALRB's general counsel continues to try to impose something on the employees rather than the ALRB counting their ballots that were cast when the employees already knew what was in the so-called contract."

Gerawan's lawyers have also challenged the constitutionality of the mandatory mediation process and that case is pending before the state Court of Appeals.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6327, brodriguez@fresnobee.com or @FresnoBeeBob on Twitter.

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