FRESNO, Calif. (CN) — California’s farm labor board upheld a ruling that the state’s largest tree fruit grower interfered with its employees’ election on whether to decertify the United Farm Workers as their union representative.
The Agricultural Labor Relations Board voted unanimously Friday to uphold an administrative law judge’s decision to nullify a 2013 petition by workers for Gerawan Farming of Fresno to reject the United Farm Workers of America as their bargaining representative.
The board found that Gerawan tainted the election process, making it impossible to know the true sentiments of the employees.
“Although we affirm the ALJ’s [administrative law judge’s] conclusion that Gerawan did not instigate the decertification effort, we agree that Gerawan improperly inserted itself into the campaign,” the board wrote in a 276-page Decision and Order.
Gerawan allowed employees who favored breaking from the union to gather signatures during work time and illegally granted a wage increase during the decertification campaign to win the favor of the workers, the board said.
“Gerawan did not discipline signature gatherers for missing work, but continued to enforce its absence policies among the rest of the crew,” the board found.
Gerawan gave the anti-union campaign’s leader, Silvia Lopez, a “virtual sabbatical” to conduct the decertification effort and helped arrange for the decertification petitioners to travel by bus to Sacramento to protest the dismissal of the first decertification petition, the board said.
“Given the totality of the circumstances and Gerawan’s unlawful actions, we conclude that it is impossible to know whether the signatures gathered in support of the decertification petition represented the workers’ true sentiments,” the board said.
The dispute between Gerawan and the UFW dates back to 1992, when the union began to represent the farmworkers but was unable to negotiate a contract with Gerawan.
The family-owned company claims the union abandoned the workers for nearly two decades, to re-emerge in 2012 to try to negotiate a new labor contract.
On Oct. 25, 2013, Lopez filed a petition to decertify the UFW from representing the company’s workers. Gerawan workers held an election several weeks later, but the several thousand ballots cast were impounded after complaints were made that Gerawan had unduly influenced the workers.
The board’s April 15 ruling sets aside the election.
Gerawan said it will appeal.
“In its decision to destroy the ballots, the board ignores the desires of workers to determine their own economic future,” the company said in a statement. It said it would welcome a new election supervised by board Chairman William Gould.
“We truly want the workers to have a say since the last time they were asked their opinion was in 1990,” the company said.
The UFW did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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