The United Farm Workers (UFW) were booted on Thursday as the union representatives for 3,000 workers at Gerawan Farming by the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) after a court battle that lasted half a decade.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the decision is a crushing defeat for the UFW, founded by Cesar Chavez in 1962. The union peaked at 80,000 members in 1973, but declined to 26,000 members in 1982, and currently has just 8,274 members — primarily in accommodation and food service, according to the Union Facts website.
Gerawan Farming advertises that the company’s produce is “Blemish-Free, Guaranteed.” The key quality difference is about eight hand-pickings of trees per season, rather than the average of three. Gerawan also hand-packs its shipped boxes.
Gerawan Farming is also the nation’s largest grower of peaches, plums, and nectarines, and employs over 5,000 workers in the Fresno area. The company’s quality strategy explains why it pays the highest farm wages, provides better benefits, fully complies with labor laws, and offers to pay tuition for employees’ children to attend private Catholic schools.
The UFW claimed to win a highly disputed organizing election at Gerawan Farming in 1990. After legal challenges by both sides, the California ALRB certified the UFW in 1992 as the employees’ bargaining representative.
Despite Gerawan supposedly responding to the UFW to negotiate a union contract with economic terms, the UFW did not contact Gerawan between 1995 and 2012. The union also did not send any communications to Gerawan, file any labor practice charges, make any inquiries on behalf of employees, or perform any other normal labor union duties.
But the UFW requested renewed contract negotiations with Gerawan in 2012, despite seemingly having abandoned the workers for two decades. The union move sparked a 2013 worker decertification vote, followed by legal battles between the company and the union.
The ALRB had refused to open and count votes in the workers’ decertification election for five years, and ruled Gerawan engaged in unfair labor practices in 2016. When the ballots were finally opened and counted in front of witnesses on September 18 after being so ordered by the California Supreme Court, Gerawan workers’ had voted 197 for the UFW representation and 1,098 for desertification of the union.
President of the California Fruit Association George Radanovich told the Western Farm Press: “Employees have a fundamental right to choose whether or not to be represented. ” He blamed the ALRB and the UFW for opposing the voices of employees.
The ALRB decision on Thursday argued that Gerawan engaged in unfair labor practices, but that the actions could not have nullified the plurality for desertification, despite 18 ballots being nullified, and 660 disputed ballots being disputed.