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Thursday, July 11, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

California judge leaning against injunction in union case

An attorney for the plaintiff argued that his client has lost its due process rights because of an unconstitutional process.

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (CN) — A state judge in California said he’d likely deny a motion for a preliminary and permanent injunction in a case challenging new rules about how unions are formed.

Kern County Superior Court Judge Bernard Barmann Jr. issued no ruling Wednesday in the case that focuses on the process for recognizing agricultural worker unions. A trial date has not yet been scheduled.

Wonderful Nurseries requested a preliminary and permanent injunction to stop the Agricultural Labor Relations Board from enforcing certification of the United Farm Workers at Wonderful. The nursery has argued that it has no due process, as it can’t ask for judicial review unless the union makes a specific charge.

“It can sit back and do nothing,” said attorney David Schwarz, who represents Wonderful.

Additionally, Wonderful can’t access authorization cards — used instead of a secret ballot to form a union — which means it can’t obtain evidence to use in its case.

According to Wonderful, changes made to state law in 2023 removed the secret ballot. Now, unions can use authorization cards with worker signatures as proof the majority wants to unionize. Neither the company nor its employees can challenge the cards’ validity.

Revealing his initial thoughts, Barmann first said he disagreed with arguments made by defendants that he had no jurisdiction. Wonderful argued he does have jurisdiction, as it’s not asking him to get involved in “abstract disagreements over administrative policies,” but instead rule on an existing issue that’s violating the company’s protected interests.

While Barmann agreed with Wonderful’s argument about jurisdiction, he sided with the defendants on all other points.

Schwarz argued Wednesday that Wonderful faces irreparable harm because gaining judicial review hinges on the union filing an unfair labor practice charge. If it doesn’t, no avenue for review exists.

The judge asked Christina López, a deputy attorney general, about that claim. Representing the defendants, López disagreed with Schwarz’s characterization. She said there’s an existing review process, before adding that certifying the union doesn’t harm Wonderful.

In its motion for an injunction, the nursery wrote that it’s submitted 140 employee declarations stating they didn’t want to be in a union, with many saying they thought the authorization card was needed to access federal relief funds.

Attorney Mario Martínez, representing United Farm Workers, said there are accusations that Wonderful coerced employees to sign those declarations, saying they shouldn’t be discounted.

According to Martínez, Wonderful wants a piecemeal review in this case. It should instead wait for a final order from the agricultural board.

In fact, a hearing about the unionization has been ongoing for over 30 days, Martínez said. In that hearing, Wonderful has made its arguments and presented evidence on why the union shouldn’t be certified. An examiner will issue a decision at the hearing’s conclusion that can then be appealed to the board.

“All the things that Wonderful is saying is not available is available,” Martínez added.

Given a chance to reply, Schwarz again pointed to a lack of judicial review without a formal charge made by the union. Martínez said it would be malpractice by union lawyers not to file such a charge. Schwarz countered that his client’s rights shouldn’t rely on the actions of another, saying that isn’t due process.

“’Trust me’ isn’t a constitutional argument,” Schwarz said.

Pressed on why an injunction is needed in this case, Schwarz said no other administrative proceeding restricts access to evidence — the authorization cards. He said he was bewildered that the judge wouldn’t choose to resolve the issues now, as Schwarz wants to stop what he called an unconstitutional process.

The judge, saying he anticipated holding a trial much sooner than the October 2025 dates most civil cases were facing that day, took the matter under submission.

Categories / Business, Law, Regional

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