California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board filed an official complaint—amounting to indictment—on May 17, accusing Fresno-based Gerawan Farming Inc. of illegally denying a substantial number of its more than 6,000 field laborers the protections of a United Farm Workers’ contract because farm labor contractors directly employ them.
Labor contractors are generally considered employers for purposes of state labor law—with one important exception: The 1975 Agricultural Labor Relations Act. It says even if a grower uses a labor contractor, after farm workers choose a union representative the grower, and not the labor contractor, is their employer and the grower has the duty to bargain in good faith for a union contract.
Gerawan notified the UFW last January it intended to exclude labor contractor workers from the benefits of a union contract and persisted in excluding them during bargaining sessions lasting until April. UFW negotiators consistently told Gerawan its proposals were unlawful, but the company continued in its attempts to deny contract benefits to labor contractor employees.
“In seeking to exclude [farm labor contractor] employees from the benefits of the [union contract] and telling its agricultural employees that it wants them to be excluded [and] by insisting that the UFW agree to an unlawful contract proposal, Gerawan has unlawfully interfered with” its workers’ rights under the law, according to the ALRB complaint issued by the board’s general counsel. The law “deems Gerawan to be the agricultural employer of all [labor contractor] employees it engages. In proposing and insisting that the UFW agree to exclude [labor contractor] employees from the terms and benefits of any [contract], Gerawan has violated its duty to bargain.”
“It has been a basic principle of California law for 38 years that growers cannot evade their legal duty to bargain in good faith for a union contract on behalf of farm workers even if they are employed by farm labor contractors,” says UFW National Vice President Armando Elenes. “Gerawan needs to respect the law and the will of its workers,” Elenes adds.
Gerawan, one of the world’s biggest growers, was ordered by the ALRB on April 16 to participate in mandatory mediation with the UFW, meaning a neutral state mediator will soon be hammering out terms of a union contract on outstanding issues of disagreement. Gerawan’s request for a temporary stay of the law is set for a June 5 hearing in Fresno Superior Court. The company grows peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines and table grapes. Workers at Gerawan voted for the UFW during a 1990 election but they have not yet benefited from a union contract.
State says Gerawan broke the law by denying a union to its farm labor contractor workers