Fresno-based Gerawan Farming Inc. — which markets its fruits under the Prima brand — is a multi-million dollar company employing some 3,000 farm workers in the Central Valley. The United Farm Workers, with the participation of a 25-member negotiating committee, obtained a legally binding union contract through California’s Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation law calling for improved wages, benefits and additional rights, but Gerawan has illegally refused to implement it.
May 4, 1990 — In a drive led by Cesar Chavez, the UFW intervenes in the Gerawan union representation election—organizing workers and demonstrating enough support to get on the ballot—after another union, the Independent Union of Agricultural Workers/International Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades, AFL-CIO, initially files for an election at the huge grape and tree fruit company. Gerawan insists on including its packinghouse workers in the balloting in an effort to swing the election against the unions.
May 9, 1990 — The Gerawan election is conducted by the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board. The choices on the ballot are the Independent Union of Agricultural Workers, the UFW and no union. (ALRB case 16 90-RC-2-VI) The results are:
No Union 581
Challenged Ballots 55
May 10, 1990 — The state of California (ALRB general counsel or chief prosecutor) issues a formal complaint accusing Gerawan of illegally laying off farm workers in 32 crews in order to prevent them from voting for the UFW, all in an effort to affect the outcome of election. Gerawan is later ordered to pay all the laid-off workers lost wages with interest to make up for the economic losses they suffered as a result of Gerawan’s unlawful actions. (ALRB case 90-CE-15-VI)
May 15, 1990 — A run-off election is held between the two top vote getters (no-union and the UFW), but challenged ballots determinative the outcome. (ALRB case 16 90-RC-2-VI) The results are:
No Union 374
Challenged Ballots 211
June 1990 — The state of California (ALRB general counsel) accuses Gerawan of illegally firing crew boss Pedro Lopez’s crew because its members are union supporters.
June 29, 1990 — The ALRB makes a decision on which of the challenged ballots should be counted, resulting in a UFW election victory. (ALRB case 16 90-RC-2-VI)
July 8, 1992 — After rejecting lengthy legal challenges to the election results by Gerawan, the ALRB certifies the UFW as the Gerawan employees’ union representative.
July 21, 1992 — Cesar Chavez sends a letter to Gerawan requesting negotiations.
August 13, 1992 — Gerawan agrees to negotiate, but never makes a legal contract proposal.
November 1992 — In an effort to delay bargaining for a union contract, Gerawan reverses its position and files a petition with the National Labor Relations Board office in Oakland asking its regional director to determine that Gerawan’s packinghouse workers were subject to the NLRB’s jurisdiction and therefore ineligible to be represented by the UFW under California’s farm labor law. In May 1990, Gerawan insisted the packinghouse workers were eligible to vote and should be included in the state-held election under California law. (NLRB case No. 32-RM-700).
December 30, 1992 — Gerawan is found guilty by the state of California (ALRB board) of closing down six farm labor camps in retaliation for workers’ support of the UFW and the company is ordered to compensate workers for their loss of housing.
March 9, 1993 — The NLRB regional director issues a decision, determining that the Gerawan packinghouse workers are commercial rather than agricultural employees and therefore ineligible to be represented by the UFW, even though Gerawan previously argued they should be included in the vote.
April 23, 1993 — Cesar Chavez passes away.
July 6, 1994 — UFW President Arturo Rodriguez (who succeeds Cesar Chavez) sends Gerawan a letter once again requesting negotiations.
Summer and fall 1994 — UFW organizers and negotiators work with the elected union negotiating committee composed of worker leaders at the massive company and extensively consult with workers in Gerawan’s many crews to re-organize the employees and involve them in formulating a complete UFW bargaining proposal.
November 22, 1994 — UFW Central Valley Regional Manager Tanis Ybarra submits the comprehensive bargaining proposal to Gerawan and proposes ground rules for the negotiations. Shortly afterwards, the UFW’s Ybarra meets with the company attorney and Mike Gerawan, taking them through the union bargaining proposal. The company agrees to prepare a counter-proposal. It is never received.
Early 1995 — The union’s Ybarra, UFW President Rodriguez and union executive board member Cecilia Ruiz meet with Mike Gerawan to discuss negotiations. During the meeting, Gerawan says, “I don’t want the union and I don’t need the union.” Gerawan signals it will never sign a contract acceptable to the UFW. That ends the session. No more meetings are held.
1995 – 2002 — UFW continues working with Gerawan workers to improve their working conditions, all while the ALRB, under Republican political appointees, stops enforcing the law and provides no support for continued organizing.
2001-2002 — UFW works with farm workers from across the state, including Gerawan employees, in passing the state Mandatory Mediation law, which permits neutral state mediators to hammer out union contracts when growers refuse to sign them. Farm workers from across the state, among them Gerawan workers, march on the state Capitol, urging Governor Gray Davis to sign the bill into law, which he does.
January 1, 2003 — The 2002 UFW-sponsored Mandatory Mediation law goes into effect.
May 2004 — The UFW launches a new campaign to re-organize Gerawan workers and opens a union office in the Fresno County town of Reedley to aide in that effort.
August 5, 2004 — A wave of onerous anti-UFW leaflets are anonymously mailed out in farm worker communities where Gerawan employees live, threatening workers with job loss if they support the union. The UFW and Gerawan workers believe the company is responsible for the anonymous mailings.
2002-2006 — UFW awaits the state courts to uphold the law in the face of grower legal challenges.
2005 — With the help of Gerawan and other workers across the state, the UFW urges Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to issue regulations requiring employers like Gerawan to provide employees with shade and cool water, and take other steps to prevent deaths and illnesses from exposure to extreme heat.
2006 — The agricultural industry’s challenge to the Mandatory Mediation law’s constitutionality goes before the Third District Court of Appeals in Sacramento, where appeals involving ALRB decisions usually go because the agency is headquartered there. The Third District rejects the employers’ constitutional challenges. The industry appeals that ruling to the California Supreme Court and it refuses to hear the case. The industry declines an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, settling the law’s constitutionality.
January 1, 2012 — Another statute takes affect that is crafted in 2011 by Governor Jerry Brown creating new remedies for workers when their employers break the law during union organizing or election campaigns.
October 12, 2012 — The UFW sends another request for negotiations to Gerawan.
January 17- July 29, 2013 — Despite numerous negotiating sessions, Gerawan refuses to agree to a collective bargaining agreement with the union.
March 29, 2013 — The UFW asks the ALRB for a neutral state mediator to hammer out a union contract under provisions of the 2002 Mandatory Mediation law, which lets either party bring in a mediator when they can’t agree on a contract. The mediator hears both sides and then issues a decision that becomes the union contract.
May 17, 2013 — The first new complaint—tantamount to an indictment—is filed by the state of California (ALRB general counsel) against Gerawan because the company illegally proposes to exclude some of its farm workers from the protections of a union contract because they are supplied by farm labor contractors and because Gerawan is “insisting that the UFW agree to an unlawful contract proposal that contravenes the purposes of the [law],” according to the complaint. (ALRB case 2013-CE-10-VIS)
August 15, 2013 — A second complaint is filed by the state of California (ALRB general counsel), accusing Gerawan supervisors of illegally circulating petitions to decertify the UFW. California and national labor laws make it illegal for an employer to have any involvement in a campaign by its workers to decertify the union. (ALRB case 2013-CE-27-VIS)
August 21, 2013 — A Fresno County Superior court judge issues a temporary restraining order against Gerawan over the August 15, 2013 complaint.
September 16, 2013 — The same Fresno Superior court judge issues a permanent injunction against Gerawan.
September 18, 2013 — A group that claims to represent Gerawan workers files the first petition for an election to decertify, or get rid of, the UFW.
September 25, 2013 — The ALRB regional director in Visalia dismisses the Gerawan decertification petition after a thorough investigation reveals widespread forgery, illegal company support for the decertification drive and because the petition does not contain enough worker signatures to qualify for an election.
September 28, 2013 — The neutral state mediator issues an official report that amounts to a union contract under the Mandatory Mediation law. Gerawan appeals it to the ALRB board.
October 25, 2013 — The second complaint filed by the state of California (ALRB general counsel) against Gerawan is amended. It now accuses Gerawan of “instigating and encouraging the gathering of signatures for a decertification petition,” having supervisors circulate petitions and telling workers to sign them, “unlawfully interrogating workers about their union activities,” threatening employees with job loss if they support the UFW, and “surveilling” its workers. It also states that an attorney for some of Gerawan’s farm labor contractors—and therefore an agent of Gerawan—illegally represents the decertification campaign petitioner and other workers behind the decertification effort. (ALRB case 2013-CE-27-VIS)
October 25, 2013 — Despite having the authority to issue a final ruling on the mediator’s union contract decision, Governor Brown’s appointees to the ALRB board create further delay by sending the mediator’s decision back to him in order for him to revise six very minor issues that are quickly and easily resolved. No decertification petition could have been permitted once the ALRB board had implemented the union contract.
October 25, 2013 — The ALRB’s delay in implementing the mediator’s decision allows time for a second Gerawan decertification petition to be filed, the first one having been dismissed the previous month.
October 30, 2013 — A third complaint is filed by the state of California (ALRB general counsel) against Gerawan, accusing the company of “failing to bargain in good faith with its employees’ union,” “impeding its employees ability to communicate with their union” and “failing to provide relevant and accurate employee information” to the UFW so it can communicate with union members. Gerawan has “intimidat[ed] [its employees] in the exercise of their right to participate in negotiations,” the complaint states. Gerawan also takes credit for a “significant” pay hike for its workers without mentioning the UFW or that the raise was “negotiated with the union,” according to the complaint. (ALRB cases 2012-CE-41; 2012-CE-47; 2013-CE-07; 2013-CE-09; 2013-CE-25)
October 31, 2013 — The ALRB regional director also dismisses the second decertification petition at Gerawan, citing the outstanding three recent complaints issued against the company over repeated and multiple violations of the law in the last five months. The regional director states that it is “impossible” to conduct a free and fair election given Gerawan’s lawbreaking.
November 1, 2013 — In an unprecedented move, the governor’s three appointees on the ALRB board ignore California law, quickly vacate the regional director’s dismissal of the second decertification election and order the election held anyway despite numerous blatant violations of the law by Gerawan—and Gerawan crew boss’ involvement in the request for the election. The ballots are impounded and not counted so the board can investigate the extent of Gerawan’s violations of the law.
November 19, 2013 — The Gerawan workers’ long-awaited union contract is finalized by the ALRB, but the company refuses to implement it in violation of the law.
December 23, 2013 — The UFW files unfair labor practice charges with the ALRB over Gerawan’s failure to recall a number of worker leaders, including members of the union negotiating committee, in retaliation for their support of the UFW and for engaging in union activities protected by California law.
April 4, 2014 — 4th Complaint filed by State of California against Gerawan Farming (2014-CE-003-VIS) for Bad Faith Bargaining and Unlawful Restraint and Interference by illegally refusing to implement the legally binding contract ordered by the neutral mediator and approved by the ALRB.
April 9, 2014 — The ALRB general counsel takes Gerawan to court for violating the law and refusing to implement the collective bargaining agreement ordered by the State of California.
June 23, 2014 — Official reports filed with the U.S. Department of Labor reveal Gerawan paid anti-union labor consultants $3,000 per day plus travel and other expenses to campaign against the UFW.
August 12, 2014 — A well-financed anti-labor group related to America’s radical right comes to the aid of Gerawan by starting to pay for anti-UFW billboards along Hwy. 99. The Center for Worker Freedom is sponsored by Grover Norquist’s Washington, D.C.-based Americans for Tax Reform.
September 9, 2014 — A blistering new 28-page formal complaint is filed by the state of California (ALRB general counsel) detailing how the UFW’s renewed attempt to negotiate a union contract with the company “in October 2012 sparked an intensive and ongoing campaign by Gerawan to undermine the UFW’s status as its employees bargaining representative; to turn its employees against the union; to promote decertification of the UFW; and to prevent the UFW from ever representing its employees under a [union contract].” This latest complaint specifies a long chronology of serious, multiple and repeated violations of California’s farm labor law outlined in four earlier complaints, three from 2013 and one issued in April 2014. (ALRB case 2014-CE-003)
October 21, 2014 – A series of California city councils, county boards of supervisors and local school districts pass resolutions calling on Gerawan to honor the state-issued union contract. It begins with the Los Angeles City Council.
February 10, 2015 – The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education issues a resolution urging Gerawan to honor the contract with its workers.
February 26, 2015 – Gerawan spends more than $12,000 on a “hit piece” political campaign mailer against L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson who is up for re-election because Wesson backed the council resolution on Gerawan.
September 17, 2015 – In a 192-page decision, an ALRB administrative law judge dismisses the decertification election at Gerawan after six months of sworn testimony from 130 witnesses. The judge concludes that with “the unlawful actions” of a major statewide grower association, Gerawan and decertification petitioner Silvia Lopez “created an environment which would have made it impossible for true employee choice when it [came] time to vote” on whether to get rid of the UFW. Among other findings, Judge Mark R. Soble concludes it is “undisputed” that “in October 2013, the California Fresh Fruit Association and Barry Bedwell [its head] gave twenty thousand dollars to petitioner Silvia Lopez to support the decertification effort.” The judge also concludes that “Gerawan gave Silvia Lopez ‘a virtual sabbatical’ to facilitate circulation of the decertification petitions” and that “when the petitioner was almost out of time to collect needed signatures before the 2013 peak season ended, the company allowed her to physically block the company entrances and to collect [1,000] signatures during work hours that day.”
May 14, 2015 – The Fifth District Court of Appeals in Fresno rules the Mandatory Mediation law is unconstitutional even though the statute’s constitutionality is upheld in 2006 by the Third District Court of Appeals in Sacramento and the industry’s appeal of that ruling is rejected by the state Supreme Court.
June 23, 2015 – The ALRB and UFW appeal the Fifth District Court of Appeals decision that the 2002 Mandatory Mediation law is unconstitutional.
August 19, 2015 – The California Supreme Court accepts the ALRB and UFW appeal of the Fifth District Court of Appeals decision.
March 30, 2016 – The director of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation affirms a $5,000 fine levied against Gerawan by the Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner for violating regulations protecting its farm workers from exposure to dangerous pesticides.
April 15, 2016 – The full ALRB board issues a unanimous 82-page decision affirming a 192-page opinion by an ALRB administrative judge finding Gerawan guilty of “commit[ing] numerous” violations of the law and throwing out the decertification petition. ALRB Chairman William B. Gould IV writes in a concurring opinion that “The voluminous record and numerous findings of the [administrative judge] in this case clearly established the illegal conduct of Gerawan, and the fact that it is guilty of extensive misconduct [showing] the employer unlawfully inserted itself into the electoral process through a variety of means.” Gould rules that “though the decertification was filed by employees, by the ways found by the [judge], and affirmed by [the board] decision, the employer became a principal party to that effort.” Both state and national labor law make it illegal for an employer to be involved in deciding union representation for its workers. The ALRB board rules “Gerawan discriminatorily permitted anti-union signature gathering during work time while prohibiting pro-union activity of the same kind”; Gerawan granted [decertification campaign leader Silvia] Lopez a ‘virtual sabbatical’ to conduct the decertification effort”; “Gerawan tacitly approved an unlawful work blockage [blocking workers from going to work], which, although instigated by the decertification petitioner supporters, directly facilitated the gathering of the signatures for the showing of interest [to trigger an election]”; and “Gerawan colluded with the CFFA [California Fresh Fruit Association, an industry group] to make arrangements for the decertification petitioners to travel by bus [with hundreds of Gerawan workers] to Sacramento in order to protest the dismissal of the first decertification petition, thus condoning employees taking time off from work to join the protest.”
May 19, 2016 – A federal judge certifies the class for a major wage and hour lawsuit against Gerawan. At stake is an estimated $20 million to $30 million for up to 10,000 current and former Gerawan employees who stand to collect. Alleged violations include failure to pay the minimum wage and compensate for rest breaks.
April 14, 2017 – The most recent decision finding Gerawan broke the law is a sharp 60-page ruling by another state administrative judge who finds the company guilty of refusing to bargain in good faith with the UFW during 2013, and of illegally excluding from union contract benefits Gerawan workers supplied to the company by farm labor contractors.
June 29, 2017 – The state of California (ALRB general council) issues another formal complaint accusing Gerawan of bad faith bargaining by illegally refusing to provide information to the UFW, its employees’ union, and by making unilateral changes in important benefits and work policies without first negotiating them with the union.
Updated by United Farm Workers of America, September 1, 2017.