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ALRB orders one of state’s largest raspberry growers to honor a UFW contract; Central Coast workers win 15 percent pay hikes, health, pension, eight-hour overtime and an array of other benefits

Watsonville, Calif.—Soundly rejecting the company’s refusal to negotiate with the United Farm Workers, the full Agricultural Labor Relations Board on Aug. 29 affirmed a union contract issued by a neutral state mediator and ordered one of the state’s largest raspberry growers to honor the agreement. Watsonville, Calif.-based Premiere Raspberries LLC was also ordered to pay its approximately 550 workers the difference between the wages and benefits they did receive and what they would have earned under their UFW contract had the grower bargained in good faith since Dec. 29, 2017.

The three-year union contract laid out in the mediator’s decision and ordered implemented by the ALRB under California’s Mandatory Mediation Law includes 15 percent pay raises over three years; family medical, dental and vision benefits; eight paid holidays a year and three paid days for funeral leave; paid vacations; 25¢ per hour contributions to the union pension plan; paid jury duty; a grievance procedure; union seniority (job protection); and immediate overtime pay after eight hours a day for all workers. A UFW-sponsored state law enacted in 2016 provides farm workers in California with eight-hour overtime, but it is phased in over four years starting in 2019.

Premiere raspberry workers voted for the UFW in a state-supervised secret ballot election conducted by the ALRB on Aug. 9, 2017. The UFW requested negotiations with Premiere on Dec. 7 and 20, 2017. The company lawyer responded on Dec. 29, 2017, informing the union the firm would not negotiate pending a judicial review. (All the following quotes are from the ALRB decision with appropriate page citations.)

The grower’s arguments for refusing to bargain were based on the same charges against the UFW that were considered and rejected by the farm labor board shortly after the election because the state found insufficient evidence to support them.

“Premiere’s first two election objections allege the UFW…offered or provided money or other financial incentives to workers if they voted for the UFW,” the ALRB ruling stated. “This conduct also formed the basis for an unfair labor practice charge…filed by Premiere, which alleged the UFW’s agents paid or offered to pay workers to vote for the UFW. The [ALRB] General Counsel [or chief prosecutor] dismissed that charge and refused to issue a complaint [similar to an indictment].” (Page 7 of the ALRB decision, 44 ALRB 9: )

Premiere’s third and fourth election objections had also been dismissed earlier by the ALRB. Each of these objections “alleged immigration-related threats by UFW agents if workers did not vote for the union. Premiere offers no new evidence in support of those objections” as part of its refusal to negotiate with the union. “As the board stated in its prior decision [dismissing the company’s election objections], the board takes allegations of deportation or immigration-related threats very seriously.” Yet “Premiere simply failed to state a prima facie case the misconduct alleged was such that a fair election reflective of the bargaining unit employees’ free choice could not be had.” (Page 8)

The ALRB found “an award of bargaining make whole to be appropriate in this case based on Premiere’s unreasonable litigation posture.” (Page 8) “Accordingly, the board awards bargaining make whole relief for the period running from Dec. 29, 2017,when Premiere first notified the UFW of its refusal to bargain, until the effective date of the mandatory mediation and conciliation contract ordered into effect by the board’s decision and order.” (Page 9) In other words, the farm labor board ordered Premiere workers to be “made whole” for the pay and benefits they would have received under the union contract had their employer negotiated in good faith beginning on Dec. 29, 2017.

The California Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the state Mandatory Mediation Law, under which the ALRB ordered Premiere to implement the UFW contact, in November 2017: