Concerned that thousands of farm workers will soon be subjected to a union they didn’t even vote for, one California lawmaker has proposed a bill that will reform troublesome labor policies in the state.
In 2013, Silvia Lopez and many of her fellow workers at Gerawan Farms attempted to rid themselves of the United Farm Workers through a decertification election. After 20 years of absence, the union came back to demand dues which angered many of the farmers, some of whom didn’t even know they were in a union. The desertification ballot was locked after employers at the farm were accused by general counsel attorneys for the Agricultural Labor Relations Board of unfair labor practices.
“20 years later they came back to demand the contract be reinstated and dues get paid,” Republican state Assemblyman Jim Patterson told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Now after six months of testimony, the longest labor hearing in California history, an Administrative Law Judge with the ALRB is expected to decide soon whether to count the ballots cast during the decertification election. However, many have grown increasingly concerned that the judge will not make a fair decision.
“The ALRB hires its own and pays the salary of the Administrative Law Judge,” Patterson noted. “If history is an indication, my guess is they will come down on the side of the UFW.”
“I characterize some of this as almost a kangaroo court,” Patterson declared. The question that Patterson and many of the farmers are concerned with is whether the ALJ will rule against a decision made by the very board he works for.
A concern of bias on the part of the ALRB and its judge is what motivated Patterson to draft his bill. The bill does several things in the hope of addressing what Patterson sees as significant problems. It allows workers to attend all mediation meetings held by the ALRB which they were barred from doing, allows them the ability to vote on the terms of a contract they will be subjected to and will require unions to nullify a new labor contract if it is absent for more than 3 years.
“I hope it will pass and I hope the governor will recognize its necessity,” Patterson continued. “The question I am asking my colleagues to consider is whether this is a just set of reforms.”
Patterson recalls meeting the farmers and learning much about how they feel about the union. He discovered they have a very good relationship with their management and in all likelihood, if the ballot gets counted it will show they voted to decertify the union.
He hopes his bill will allow workers to make their own decisions instead of being forced to follow what their union and the ALRB say it best for them.
“They imply these people don’t know how to take care of themselves,” Patterson continued. “These are individuals that fully understand what they’re doing.”
However, the union has argued that the workers want its representation. Edgar Aguilasocho, lead attorney for the UFW, expressed his optimism that the ALJ will show just that.
“I can’t guarantee what the outcome will be, but we’re confident the truth will come to light at the end of these proceedings, and that the workers will soon enjoy the benefits of the collective bargaining agreement that’s already been ordered by the state between the UFW and Gerawan,” Aguilasocho told CNBC.
Patterson is not yet sure when his bill will come up for a vote but he does note it could be around April or May.
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