About 200 field workers from Gerawan Farming gathered at a downtown Fresno hotel Wednesday, urging the state to resolve a 10-month-old election to determine if they will remain members of the United Farm Workers union.
The workers are frustrated because the ballots from the November election have been sequestered by the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board. The board held the ballots after numerous charges of unfair labor practices were leveled at Gerawan, one of the largest fruit growers in Fresno County.
The ALRB and the United Farm Workers union allege the farming company helped orchestrate the anti-union efforts and is in violation of the law. A hearing before administrative law judge Mark Soble is currently discussing the charges against Gerawan, a fruit grower with thousands of workers in the central San Joaquin Valley.
The hearing could take weeks, if not months. Nearly a dozen attorneys are involved, and more than 100 witnesses could be called.
By no coincidence, Wednesday’s rally in the Radisson hotel’s ballroom was held on the same floor as the administrative hearing.
Several workers said they wanted the ALRB to know they are angry. Many carried signs or wore T-shirts that read, “Count our votes.” The workers also denied that they were told to attend the rally or were paid for the day.
“We are here because we want to be here,” said Jose Mendez, a tree fruit picker. “If they had paid us to be here, the entire company would be here.”
Lourdes Dominguez, who picks grapes for Gerawan, said she does not support the union and wants the election issue resolved.
“We just want them to count the votes,” Dominguez said. “A lot of us don’t want the union here because we don’t need them.”
Elected officials including Assembly Members Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, and Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, joined Fresno City Council Members Clint Olivier and Steve Brandau in supporting the Gerawan workers at the rally.
Patterson said the ALRB is in need of revamping, adding that workers should not have to wait nearly a year for the results of a decertification election.
“We need to make sure that something like this does not happen again,” Patterson said.
The rally dispersed after about an hour without incident, despite concerns by the ALRB and the union that witnesses testifying about alleged wrongdoing by the company would be intimidated by the anti-union workers.
“We are very concerned that there could be reprisals against some of the workers,” said Edgar Aguilasocho, a UFW attorney. “These workers should not be frightened to come in and testify.”