Farm Workers Voted 5-1 to Leave Union

Regulators withheld results of 2013 election until a federal court order

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California farm workers voted out their union by a 5-1 margin in 2013, but state regulators withheld those results until a federal court ordered them released.

Employees at Fresno-based Gerawan Farming voted overwhelmingly to cut ties with the United Farm Workers union in a decertification election five years ago. The extent of the union's defeat, however, was not known until Tuesday when the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) finally released the results. The ballots cast showed that 1,098 employees voted to leave the union, while only 197 voted to stay—a margin in excess of the 640 ballots the union sought to disqualify, which played a major role in the ALRB decision not to tally the vote.

Gerawan said allowing the public and workers to know the results of the secret ballot election gives a clear picture of a workforce at odds with union leaders, leaving "no doubt what our employees want." The company called on the ALRB to affirm the right of its workers to decertify UFW as its collective bargaining representative.

"It [the result] is a ringing endorsement of their right to choose, and a repudiation of concerted, unlawful, and anti-democratic efforts to deny them that right," the company said in a statement. "We call on the UFW and the ALRB to respect the choices of farmworkers, to certify the results of the election, and to decertify the UFW."

The union has maintained that the company's behavior during the decertification process calls the entire vote into question, no matter the vote totals at the end of the day. Spokesman Armando Elenes said the ALRB is under no obligation to accept the results of a "tainted" election and should stand by its preliminary ruling.

"It SHOULD matter how Gerawan obtained the election and an employer such as Gerawan who has been found repeatedly guilting of massive lawbreaking to obtain this election, should not be benefit or be considered valid," Elenes said in an email to the Washington Free Beacon (emphasis in the original). "Relying upon counted ballots in an election hopelessly tainted by massive Gerawan lawbreaking would make a mockery of the democratic process."

The ALRB refused to tally the ballots after an administrative law judge found that Gerawan "unlawfully inserted itself into the electoral process." It found that the company permitted anti-union employees to gather signatures on company time, while refusing the same opportunity to union supporters. The company, according to its findings, also allowed workers to forsake their work duties to aid in the campaign against the union.

The tally was officially conducted after a three-judge panel from California's Fifth District Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the agency violated its own neutrality and demonstrated an adversarial approach to Gerawan. The ruling said the ALRB's refusal to count the votes was "either arbitrary or punitive (or both)" and the results of harmed workers even if it was directed against the company itself.

"The drastic remedy of throwing out the election in a case such as this one would appear to be either arbitrary or punitive (or both)—i.e., unnecessarily disenfranchising the employees as a punishment for the employer's wrongdoing," the May ruling said. "The Board so narrowly focused on punishing the employer that it effectively lost sight of the correlative statutory value of protecting the farmworkers' right to choose, which was and is a fundamental part of the Board's mission."

Assemblyman Jim Patterson, a Fresno Republican, said the agency should support the wishes of the workers. He said the overwhelming margin should persuade the ALRB and the UFW to drop their campaign to "stop these votes from being counted."

"The voices of thousands of California farmworkers have been silenced for five years," Patterson said in a release. "For the farmworkers who have continued the fight to have their votes counted after many defeats and disappointments—justice has finally been served. Their voices have been heard loud and clear."

The ALRB general counsel's office did not respond to request for comment, nor did it indicate whether it planned on certifying the vote.

Bill McMorris   Email Bill | Full Bio | RSS
Bill McMorris is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He joins the Beacon from the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, where he was managing editor of Old Dominion Watchdog. He was a 2010 Robert Novak Fellow with the Phillips Foundation, where he studied state pension shortfalls. His work has been featured on CNN, Fox News, The Economist, Colbert Report, and numerous print publications and radio stations. He lives in Alexandria, Va, with his wife and three daughters. His Twitter handle is @FBillMcMorris. His email address is mcmorris@freebeacon.com.

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