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Sunday, July 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Growers Fight Union & California Labor Law

FRESNO, Calif. (CN) - Two agricultural businesses have challenged a 40-year-old California law that allows union representatives onto farm property to organize workers.

Cedar Point Nursery and Fowler Packing Co. sued the four members of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board on Wednesday in Federal Court. They claim the Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975 allows unconstitutional seizure of their property, and "taking of an easement without just compensation."

Specifically, the lawsuit challenges "the access regulation [which] declares that the Board 'will consider the rights of employees under Labor Code Section 1152 to include the right of access by union organizers to the premises of an agricultural employer for the purpose of meeting and talking with employees and soliciting their support.'"

That regulation survived a challenge at the California Supreme Court in 1976, but has never been challenged in federal court as a violation of constitutional property rights.

Cedar Point raises strawberries just south of the Oregon border, for growers nationwide. Fresno-based Fowler ships more than 20 million boxes of citrus and table grapes each year. Both have been targets of union protests.

Both say their operations have been disrupted by the United Farm Workers, who "protest on its property under the guise of access regulations" (Cedar Point), or by union members who claim they were "unlawfully denied access to its property" (Fowler).

Cedar Point says the union disrupted the tail end of the six-week strawberry harvest last year.

"The protesters disrupted work by moving through the trim sheds with bullhorns, distracting and intimidating workers," the nursery says, and that some employees left the work site to protest with union representatives.

The union did not serve Cedar Point with a notice of intent to take access until it had already trespassed, the complaint states.

Cedar Point owner and CEO Mike Fahner called it "an ambush."

"This is the first time we experienced anything like this and it makes me feel very vulnerable as a business person," Fahner said in an interview. "When people with their own agenda can brazenly enter your facilities and cause chaos and work stoppage, it ought to be illegal. It's certainly unconstitutional.

"If this were to happen in any other industry, or in any other state, the trespassers would be arrested."

The union was unsuccessful in recruiting most of Cedar Point's workers, so it is likely the union will attempt to take access again in the future, according to the complaint.

"If not for the challenged regulation, Cedar Point would exercise its right to exclude the union trespassers from its property," the complaint states.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, which represents Cedar Point and Fowler Packing, says the regulation at issue violates the owners' Fifth Amendment right against government-imposed takings, and their Fourth Amendment right against government-sanctioned intrusions.

"Government may not give out permission slips to unions to trespass on private property," said attorney Joshua Thompson. "When government arm twists an owner into allowing people onto its property against his will, that land, or at least an easement across it, is being commandeered for a government agenda. And government seizure of private property, without compensation, is strictly forbidden by the Fifth Amendment and its ban on takings."

Thompson said there are plenty of places where unions can make their case to agricultural workers, but that union activists "seem more interested in forcing themselves onto private property and fomenting conflict."

Fowler and Cedar Point ask the court to declare the access provision unconstitutional, and to enjoin the Agricultural Labor Relations Board from enforcing it against them.

Officials from the union idd not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

The ALRB declined to comment.

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