After a long and bitter legal battle, California officials decided Thursday that the vote of thousands of Latino farm workers does not count, and they must stay in their union.
The case pitted farm workers of Gerawan Farming, union officials, advocates and government agents against each other. Accusations of union bias, employer abuse and even “Jim Crow” suppression tactics were detailed through countless pages of legal testimony. After nearly two years of uncertainty, the courts have sided with the United Farm Workers (UFW).
“As a result of the employer’s unlawful support and assistance, I am setting aside the decertification election and dismissing the decertification petition,” the arbitration judge decision declared. “Given that the unlawful conduct tainted the entire decertification process, any election results would not sufficiently reflect the unrestrained free expression of the bargaining unit members.”
Additionally, the decision accused Silvia Lopez, the main worker leading the effort to decertify the union, of being paid to do so. It noted she was given time off to lead the effort and actively blocked her colleagues from voting. It also cited her as being a “girlfriend” of one of the Gerawan Farming supervisors.
It all began in 2013 when Lopez and many of her fellow workers at the Fresno-based Gerawan Farming filed to decertify the UFW. After 20 years of absence, the union came back to demand dues, angering many of the nearly 5,000 workers at the farm. After an unfair labor practice charge against the farm employer, though, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) decided to lock away the ballot vote.
The ALRB began investigating to determine if employer abuse actually occurred. Concerns that the board was biased in favor of the union, however, made critics skeptical they would make a fair decision. As the dispute developed, it quickly gain attention from local lawmakers like Republican state Assemblyman Jim Patterson.
“This unjust decision sends a clear message that the ALRB doesn’t think farmworkers are capable of deciding for themselves whether they want union representation,” Patterson said Friday in a statement to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “If this ruling is not reversed by the Ag Labor Board, it will be a perpetual stain on their honor.”
Patterson even introduced legislation to rein in the ALRB in early 2015. With concerns the board was bias, the hope was to put power back in the hands of the workers, not the union or ALRB. The measure did not go forward.
“These workers deserve to have their votes counted and their voices heard,” Patterson continued. “I will continue to support them and Gerawan Farming as they continue to stand up for what’s right.”
The hearing process lasted six months — ending in March — and became the longest labor hearing in the history of the state. As both sides waited for a decision in the months to follow, concerns the ALRB was bias became worse.
Accusations of voter intimidation were first brought to light in a June article from Flash Report Senior Correspondent Katy Grimes. At least 19 separate workers alleged abuse from agency officials during the election.
“They call me ignorant. They said they’d call immigration to take me out of the country,” Lopez, who is an American citizen, told TheDCNF back in June.
According to legal testimony from the workers, officials told them their vote was likely to get thrown out, made them perform public verbal tests, segregated them and forced them to show identification after explicitly telling them it wasn’t necessary to bring.
Additionally, ALRB officials in charge of the vote were accused of openly supporting the union. This included Regional Director Silas Shawver who was shown wearing union gear.
The case attracted national attention as it developed. The Center for Worker Freedom, a worker choice advocacy group, led much of the effort to bring attention to the issue. This included rallies for the workers and media outreach campaigns.
One rally even got the attention of Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, who invited Lopez to talk with him about what was happening. Though part of his administration, there was no evidence he knew the extent of what the ALRB was being accused of doing.
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