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Governor Jerry Brown’s Appointees Are Denying Farmworkers their Basic Civil Rights

 Background:

In 1990, employees at Gerawan Farming voted to have United Farm Workers (UFW) represent them. Shortly thereafter, and with no explanation, UFW abandoned the workers and disappeared. More than 20 years later, in 2012, UFW reappeared again, out of nowhere, and are demanding the farmworkers pay three percent of their wages to the union or be fired. The workers overwhelmingly objected, as did Gerawan Farming, to this brazen demand. In response, UFW turned to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB), which was created by Governor Jerry Brown in 1975 and now run by his appointees, and complained that Gerawan Farming was not negotiating in good faith and forced them to mediate a collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

In June 2013, UFW began the forced-negotiations with Gerawan Farming for a CBA allegedly on behalf the agricultural employees, despite the fact that virtually none of the current farmworkers were employed by Gerawan at the time of the 1990 vote. The workers tried to intervene and were met with hostile objections from UFW and the mediator to even being present in the negotiations, let alone participate in their future. Undeterred and determined to stop the CBA being forced on them by a union that had abandoned them decades ago, Gerawan farmworkers instituted decertification proceedings to kick UFW out and to stop it from forcing workers to pay union dues and negatively impact the workplace.

To decertify UFW, workers gathered approximately 2,500 signatures on the first effort and almost 3,000 the second time to call for a secret ballot vote. During these arduous efforts, the ALRB board members and the Regional Director began a campaign to deny these agricultural workers their ability to participate in a free and fair election, which did not stop the workers. They ultimately were awarded the right to vote on November 5, 2013, but were faced with the continued campaign to make sure the votes are never counted. They were sealed up at the conclusion of the election and remain uncounted to this day.

Click here to see a timeline of events since the union abandoned the farmworkers more than 20 years ago!

Board Members and Regional Director’s Civil Rights Violations:

  1. Labor Code requires the Regional Director hold a decertification vote within seven days of filing a petition for decertification, which was submitted to the ALRB on September 18, 2013. Regional Director Silas Shawver did not hold the vote within the statutory timeframe.
  2. On September 18, 2013, Silvia Lopez submitted approximately 2,500 signatures to trigger a decertification election, of which, the Regional Director claimed only 100 were invalid.  Although there were sufficient valid signatures to trigger the election, he claimed there was not a sufficient showing of interest. This is contradicted by an audit conducted with the very same payroll records reviewed by the Regional Director.
  3. Silvia Lopez filed a second decertification petition against UFW with nearly 3,000 signatures in one-third of the amount of time. Three days later, on October 28, 2013, Mr. Shawver denied the petition, claiming that a collective bargaining agreement had been approved and barred the decertification effort, which was not true. The CBA referenced by Mr. Shawver was incomplete and included no input from the farmworkers and was negotiated by the very union the farmworkers were attempting to decertify. Mr. Shawver’s decision was overturned by the ALRB.
  4. Not deterred from making sure the employees would not vote, Mr. Shawver engaged in a sham “investigation” to again deny Ms. Lopez’s second petition. Mr. Shawver purportedly received a complaint from the UFW regarding the second petition. Mr. Shawver requested responses to the undisclosed complaint by Gerawan Farming and Ms. Lopez’s attorneys. The result, however, was predetermined and no substantive consideration was given to arguments against the UFW. Emails from Mr. Shawver’s office suggest his lengthy, six-page decision was written before he ever received Ms. Lopez’s or Gerawan Farming’s response. Mr. Shawver blocked for a third time the decertification effort. That same day, the ALRB again vacated Mr. Shawver’s decision and instructed him that no further blocks to the decertification election were permitted.
  5. Just a few minutes before midnight of the eve of the decertification election, Mr. Shawver informed the parties that a new list of eligible employees and challenged employees would be used. The new list had been created by the UFW and Gerawan and the employees were not given a copy of that list to review or object to until just before the polls opened.
  6. In violation of the employees’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, certain employees were targeted and segregated during the voting process. If an employee’s name was on the challenge list, they were pulled aside and interrogated for all employees to see. They were asked intimidating questions, prejudicial scare tactics were used, and they were belittled in front of their co-workers. The crew challenges resulted in a complete embarrassment to legitimate, hard-working employees simply trying to exercise their free right to vote.  
  7. On November 5, 2013, employees voted on whether to decertify UFW, but the ballots have neither been released nor counted.  It has now been almost four months and the employees still do not know the results of the election. The voters have done nothing wrong and deserve the right to know the results, which are wrongfully being denied to them by Mr. Shawver and the other Board members, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. They have the right to decide whether they want union representation, which includes the right not to be associated with the union.  The refusal to the count the ballots denies them of that very right.
  8. The refusal to the count the ballots is a denial of the employees’ right to due process under the First and Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  Both their liberty and property interests are being taken away from the employees through a process that is unfair, illegal, and unconstitutional.  They deserve the right to know the results of an election that will have a profound impact on their wages, working conditions, and their lives.