Valley Voices

Blurred lines: Farm labor board hires another UFW activist

Gerawan Farming employees protest an April 15, 2016, decision by the ALRB upholding an administrative law judge’s findings that the company interferred with a decertification vote. The company appealed the board’s decision.
Gerawan Farming employees protest an April 15, 2016, decision by the ALRB upholding an administrative law judge’s findings that the company interferred with a decertification vote. The company appealed the board’s decision. Vida en el Valle file

Did it ever occur to the governor and the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board that the California employer might have an appropriate and just role in the welfare of the farmworker?

You wouldn’t think so after the appointment of yet another UFW-trained activist to the ALRB staff.

The ALRB is supposed to be a neutral agency that gives careful consideration to the interests of farmworkers in order to “ensure peace in the agricultural fields by guaranteeing justice for all agricultural workers and stability in labor relations.” Instead, the governor stands by while ALRB staff is loaded with former United Farm Workers union attorneys and activists, keeping the deck stacked against employees and employers.

For example, Chris Schneider, a former UFW attorney, was recently appointed as the new regional director of the ALRB’s regional office in Visalia. Schneider went to work in 1974 as a union organizer and then joined the UFW’s legal apprenticeship program, eventually becoming a lawyer for the union. He worked as a lawyer for the union for 15 years before moving to the California Rural Legal Assistance Inc. as a staff attorney.

The Visalia region is home to Gerawan Farming Inc., where workers decided to join the UFW in a contested election in 1990. After complete and total inaction for over two decades, the UFW returned to reassert themselves in 2012 – even though many of the farmworkers who voted no longer worked there.

Farmworkers voted again in 2013, but, fearing a loss, the ALRB has refused to count the ballots for three years. It is speculated that the Schneider appointment is intended to ensure that the UFW maintains implicit control over the ALRB litigation involving Gerawan farmworkers.

Like Schneider, the current general counsel of the ALRB, Julia Montgomery, was a staff attorney for CRLA. Schneider’s predecessor, Silas Shawver, who left the agency amid conflict-of-interest allegations in the middle of the Gerawan turmoil, but has now returned as the ALRB’s deputy general counsel, was a farmworker advocate for CRLA. And former Assistant General Counsel Alegria de la Cruz, a former CRLA attorney whose parents and grandparents both worked for the UFW, recently left the ALRB during the Gerawan flap.

The current assistant general counsel in Oxnard also trained under the UFW’s legal apprenticeship program and was called out as a union agent by an administrative law judge. Two ALRB employees in Oxnard, an attorney and a field investigator, both came from CRLA.

The ALRB is entrenched with employees from farm-labor-advocate organizations that bring a singular agenda and bias to positions of authority in our government. Imagine the public and UFW’s outcry – not to mention the news media’s – if the agricultural industry stacked the board and controlled the ALRB.

With only 7,000 dues-paying members, the UFW represents a mere 1 percent of California farmworkers. It has very little support outside of Sacramento. Yet, it controls the very agency that investigates and adjudicates cases brought by them and their allies against farmers. Talk about a conflict of interest.

When will this pro-UFW bias end, and will basic fairness and neutrality ever be restored to the ALRB?

George Radanovich is president of the California Fresh Fruit Association. Tom Nassif is president/CEO of Western Growers.

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