The preamble of California's Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA) states that its purpose is to balance the historic imbalance of power between agricultural workers and their employers by encouraging collective bargaining. In two recent decisions, not only has the ALRB failed their mission and put the workers' employment at risk, they have also demonstrated they are not familiar with the realities of agricultural operations today.
In 2010, a majority of farm workers voted for the UFW at two nurseries, Kawahara Nurseries, Inc. and Nurserymen's Exchange. The ALRB recently issued terrible decisions in those two cases that devastated the workers’ confidence in free and fair elections and enforcement of justice under the law.
In Nurserymen's Exchange, almost two years after the ALRB Salinas Regional Director ruled that an election could proceed, the ALRB threw out the election based on a impractical and unreasonable interpretation of what the law requires for when elections could be held. Contradicting its own Regional Director, the ALRB ruled that not enough workers were working when the election was held. Yes that's right. The ALRB Regional Director that conducted the election, analyzed payroll records, and talked to both the employer and union representatives ruled that the election could take place. The ALRB Board members that sit in air-conditioned Sacramento offices and had no interaction with the parties ruled that the Regional Director was wrong. Can you believe that? Neither can we!
At Kawahara, we believe the employer tried to undermine the votes of its agricultural employees by sending non-agricultural employees to vote in the ALRB election. By law, only agricultural employees can vote in such an election. Unlike the field nursery employees who plant, care for, and pot the nursery stock, the commercial employees never set foot on the nursery fields but instead arrange displays at stores like the Home Depot. When the UFW objected to these non-agricultural workers voting, the ALRB disregarded clear precedent as to what workers should be considered "agricultural" employees and ruled that they could vote. Also, the ALRB wrongly ruled that 3 supervisors could vote in the election, even though an administrative law judge that heard the case during a week long hearing ruled that those 3 employees could not vote because they were supervisors. This decision effectively served to disenfranchise more than 140 agricultural workers.
Too much is at risk when farm workers try to organize, for the ALRB to only respond to anti-union arguments raised by employer attorneys. Workers who were union leaders during these two elections tell us they have not been able to return back to work at Kawahara and Nurserymen's Exchange, while others who were not active in the election campaign were recalled back to work.
The ALRB is supposed to provide a balance of power and encourage collective bargaining. Clearly their terrible decisions in these two cases are not consistent with those goals. Tell them to get their act together and to stop putting workers' livelihoods at risk.