The Corner

Economy & Business

Vindication for Gerawan Farming

United Farm Workers protest in San Francisco, Calif., in 2015. (Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

Last week, the results of a union-decertification election in California were released — five years after the election was held. Workers at Gerawan Farming voted to decertify their representative, United Farm Workers, by the decisive tally of 1,098 to 197.

The election had been delayed by a protracted legal battle between the workers, UFW, and the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board. In the 1990s, Gerawan workers had voted to certify UFW as their representative, but when negotiations between the UFW and management fizzled out, the union disappeared. By 2012, most of the workers who initially voted to certify UFW were gone. When they began to call for a decertification election, a bizarre series of events ensued, as I wrote in June:

UFW challenged the decertification push almost as soon as it began, accusing Gerawan management of illegally instigating the push for decertification and forging signatures on the initial petition. Yet it does not boggle the mind that a majority of workers would want to cast off the union — especially given that its numbers had been dwindling for years before it reached out to Gerawan, and that it opened negotiations by demanding that workers contribute 3 percent of their paychecks in dues. . . .

But the ALRB consistently came down on the side of the union. It disallowed the initial petition filed by employees to hold [the] election. When a second petition was filed, it challenged that as well. When the election was finally held, it suppressed the results.

But as the ALRB backed the union, Gerawan employees held large-scale protests against both to demand that their ballots be counted. On September 30, 2013, for instance, thousands of workers walked off the job — not to protest their employer, but to protest the roadblocks the ALRB had thrown in their way. In response, the ALRB hit Gerawan Farming with an unfair-labor-practice charge under the theory that it abdicated its responsibility by not disciplining the protesters.

The ALRB–UFW alliance — against the workers’ prerogative to choose their own representation — was broken up by a court order mandating that the results of the election be released. The California supreme court upheld that order two weeks ago, and the ballots were finally counted. Now that the union is decertified, it plans to mount a legal challenge, but its overwhelming defeat makes clear that Gerawan employees had no interest in being represented by the UFW.

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