Agriculture

Judge finds Gerawan Farming violated state labor law in bargaining dispute with UFW

In an April 2015 file photo, three women identifying themselves as Gerawan Farming workers joined about 300 people who rallied outside the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno.
In an April 2015 file photo, three women identifying themselves as Gerawan Farming workers joined about 300 people who rallied outside the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno. Fresno Bee file

An administrative law judge ruled that Gerawan Farming violated state labor law by refusing to bargain in good faith and trying to exclude some workers from a collective bargaining agreement with the United Farm Workers union in 2013.

The 65-page decision, issued Friday, stemmed from several charges of unfair labor practices filed by the union in 2012 and 2013. Gerawan, one of the largest tree fruit growers in the nation, and the union have been at odds for five years over representation of the company’s field workers.

The recent ruling comes as a victory for the UFW.

“As we have repeatedly said before, Gerawan is not above the law,” said Armando Elenes, the UFW’s national vice-president.

In his decision, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board’s administrative law judge William Schmidt found that Gerawan violated state labor law by “engaging in collective bargaining with the UFW concerning the wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment of the agricultural employees in the above unit with no intentions of reaching an agreement with the UFW.”

The judge also ruled against Gerawan by saying workers hired through a farm labor contractor would be covered by the bargaining agreement. Schmidt wrote that Gerawan had insisted the workers not be included. About 5,000 Gerawan workers hired by the company and another 800 to 1,500 workers hired through Gerawan’s farm labor contractors will be affected by the ruling.

Only in the world of the ALRB can an employer be punished for failing to ‘negotiate’ the terms of a ‘contract’ dictated and imposed by this state agency

David Schwarz, attorney for Gerawan Farming

Elenes said the judge’s decision reaffirms the union’s argument that workers hired by farm labor contractors are part of the bargaining unit and should enjoy the benefits of the contract.

“In addition, it shines a light into Gerawan’s practice of paying FLC employees as much as $1 an hour less than direct hires for similar work,” Elenes said.

Elenes estimates that direct hire employees are owed approximately $3,000 each in back wages and benefits, and workers hired by farm labor contractors would be owed much more.

Gerawan attorney David Schwarz said the company plans to appeal the judge’s ruling, calling it “erroneous.”

“Only in the world of the ALRB can an employer be punished for failing to ‘negotiate’ the terms of a ‘contract’ dictated and imposed by this state agency,” Schwarz said.

As part of its punishment, Gerawan is required to cease and desist from its “unlawful conduct” and will agree to bargain with the UFW. It is also required to send copies of a notice regarding the ruling to all of its agricultural employees and farm labor contractor employees who worked from January 2013 through August 2013. The company must also post a notice of the ruling at its work sites for a period of 60 days during peak employment period. It must also grant access to ALRB staff so they can read the notice of the decision to employees at work.

Robert Rodriguez: 559-441-6327, @FresnoBeeBob

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