On March 1, Administrative Law Judge Douglas Gallop of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) issued his recommended decision dismissing all of the United Farm Workers of America’s election objections and the ALRB General Counsel’s Amended Complaint against Corralitos Farms, LLC, which is a berry farming operation in Watsonville, CA.
In addition, the ALJ recommended that the ALRB certify the results of the September 19 election at Corralitos Farms where the United Farm Workers of America failed to win a majority of the votes. The ALRB conducted the election to determine whether the harvesting employees of Corralitos Farms wanted to be represented by the UFW. Of the 360 employees who voted, 187 cast their ballots for No Union, 154 voted for the UFW and 19 ballots were challenged.
According to Corralitos attorneys, particularly significant in the decision was the finding that 15 of the UFW witnesses lied in their testimony when they said workers were threatened at company meetings, including the day before the election, with job loss if the union won the election. Judge Gallop also rejected the general counsel and UFW’s claims that agricultural employees were acting as agents of the company when they publicly expressed their opposition to unionization.
The decision stated the general counsel and the UFW failed to prove their case and found that Corralitos Farms did not violate the law, the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA), according to Ana Toledo, an attorney with the law firm Ottone Leach Olsen and Ray LLP, legal counsel to Corralitos Farms.
“The decision affirms the free and fair choice of Corralitos’ employees not to be represented by a union as expressed through the secret ballot election,” Toledo said. “The UFW’s apparent objective in this case was to force the employer to bargain with the UFW without it winning the election.”
This tactic in labor representation is authorized by a recent addition to the California Labor Code that allows such action when an employer is found to have engaged in conduct affecting the results of an election and rendering slight the chances of a new election reflecting the free and fair choice of the employees. The board may only consider this remedy if the election is set aside, unlike the Corralitos case where the ALJ Gallop recommended that the ALRB certify the election results and found no employer misconduct.
The UFW filed 17 objections to the conduct of the election, all of which were set for hearing. The UFW also filed three unfair labor practice charges with the ALRB, alleging that Corralitos Farms had unlawfully provided anti-union supporters with assistance and preferential access to the crews; interrogating a union supporter in the presence of his co-workers; and coerced its employees after the election into signing a petition denying that Corralitos had engaged in unlawful pre-election conduct. The ALRB’s General Counsel issued a complaint on those unfair labor practice charges that was consolidated for hearing with the UFW’s objections.
The parties may file exceptions to the ALJ’s decision before the ALRB issues the final decision and order which is expected sometime in late April.
Rob Roy, president of the Ventura County Agricultural Association, told WG&S that the UFW’s effort is just one more issue that has resulted in very little union activity this spring. The start of the berry season in Ventura County last year led to a significant increase in union activites but that has not been the case this year.
There have been no notices of intent to take access, no notices of intent to organize and no filing of election petitions. Roy said the UFW was engaged in the Corralitos lawsuit as well as working in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., on several legislative initiatives. They are also involved in contract negotiations from a couple of elections that they did win in the past year. “I think their plate is full,” he said.
In any event, he added that employers are ready to counterpunch any union activity. In fact, a recent flyer by the UFW which indicated that they could help undocumented workers receive proper documentation was countered by a flyer, developed by Roy’s VCAA and distributed through paycheck envelopes to the workers. In the VCAA flyer, Roy wrote that employers are working on the immigration issue but there is no program currently in place to grant documentation to undocumented workers. The flyer said that when and if that becomes a reality, the employers will notify their workers of any available program.
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