Agriculture

Judge grants Gerawan Farming access to labor board documents

A Sacramento Superior Court judge on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, partially granted Gerawan Farming Company’s request for documents related to an unfair labor practice complaint filed against it by the Agricultural Labor Relations Board. It’s the latest turn in a long-running labor battle that included a demonstration in October 2014 at a downtown Fresno hotel where the ALRB was holding a hearing.
A Sacramento Superior Court judge on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, partially granted Gerawan Farming Company’s request for documents related to an unfair labor practice complaint filed against it by the Agricultural Labor Relations Board. It’s the latest turn in a long-running labor battle that included a demonstration in October 2014 at a downtown Fresno hotel where the ALRB was holding a hearing. Fresno Bee file

A Sacramento Superior Court judge on Thursday partially granted Gerawan Farming Company’s request for documents related to an unfair labor practice complaint filed against it by the Agricultural Labor Relations Board.

Judge Timothy Frawley’s tentative ruling will likely be opposed in court Friday by the ALRB.

Frawley’s ruling requires the labor board to release documents related to the agency’s request for a temporary restraining order against the company. The state filed an unfair labor practice complaint against Gerawan and went to court to try to force it to rehire an employee it had suspended and later fired for insubordination.

The ALRB said the employee was fired for his support of the United Farm Workers union. Gerawan and the union have been at odds for several years over the representation of its field workers.

Court documents show Gerawan’s attorney wanted the documents supporting the restraining order request because they raised issues about the integrity of the ALRB’s investigation and the potential involvement of the board’s staff in the dispute.

Gerawan and the public have a strong interest in the documents because they may shed light on the integrity of the ALRB’s investigation and the credibility of the ALRB’s evidence against Gerawan.

Timothy Frawley, Superior Court judge

Gerawan had become aware of a whistleblower within the ALRB who alleged that the investigation leading up to the request for a temporary restraining order was marred by “vague and misleading” information. The whistleblower also said that the board’s staff had become involved in the dispute by advising the employee to return to work despite having received a 10-day suspension.

Gerawan filed a public records act request for documents related to the temporary restraining order, but was denied by the ALRB, citing pending litigation and other legal arguments.

In his tentative ruling, the judge said the ALRB failed to meet the burden of showing why the documents were exempt from disclosure.

“Disclosing the documents will not, as the ALRB argues, invade the board’s legal privileges,” Frawley wrote in his decision.

Frawley granted access to the documents and the board’s authorization letter for the court action, but denied access to the documents related to the whistleblower claim.

“Gerawan and the public have a strong interest in the documents because they may shed light on the integrity of the ALRB’s investigation and the credibility of the ALRB’s evidence against Gerawan,” Frawley wrote.

ALRB officials declined to comment, citing pending litigation; Gerawan’s attorney David Schwarz could not be reached Thursday.

UFW attorney Mario Martinez opposed the release of the documents. In a May 12 letter to ALRB Chairman William Gould, Martinez said the union is concerned that the whistleblower’s complaint was “a disguised effort to undermine the integrity of the agency’s investigation into allegations that once again Gerawan – a repeat offender – has violated the Agricultural Labor Relations Act.”

Robert Rodriguez: 559-441-6327, @FresnoBeeBob

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