Workers at Gerawan Farming Company, who have been fighting for five years to oust the United Farm Workers, may get another shot to disconnect from the union, thanks to a ruling Wednesday by the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Fresno.
At issue is a disputed 2013 election by the workers to decertify the UFW as their representative. The workers won the right to a vote, but the agency that oversaw the election, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, never counted the ballots. The ALRB stopped the process after Gerawan was accused of unfair labor practices by trying to manipulate the outcome of the election.
An administrative hearing was conducted and the board dismissed the decertification petition, saying the vote was not valid.
In its 138-page decision, the court said the ALRB erred in several of its findings of unfair labor practices.
“Having reviewed the entire record, we conclude that several of the unfair labor practice findings relied on by the Board were unsupported by the record as a whole,” the justices wrote. “This alone would warrant returning the case to the Board to reconsider its remedy.”
They went on to say that the Board was so focused on punishing the employer that it lost sight of the “value of protecting the farmworkers’ right to chose, which was and is a fundamental part of the Board’s mission.”
It remains to be seen what action the ALRB will take. Agency officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Armando Elenes, UFW’s third vice president, said the decision is disappointing, but not surprising.
“The Appeals Court’s pro-grower rulings have been unanimously overturned three times in the past year by the California Supreme Court because they ignored well-established rules of law,” Elenes said. “The United Farm Workers plan to seek a review of this decision with the state Supreme Court and is confident it will also be overturned and that farm workers’ rights will be respected.”
Supporters of Gerawan and the anti-UFW workers praised the court’s decision.
Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, said: “These hard working men and women know exactly why their ballots were taken and they have spent countless hours fighting for their fundamental right to have them counted so their voices can be heard loud and clear – today is victory for them.”
George Radanovich, President of the California Fresh Fruit Association, said the court’s decision was long overdue.
“This has been a long time coming,” Radanovich said. “We are encouraged and pleased to see the Court account for the most important opinion in this entire matter, the prerogative of the employees.”