The California Supreme Court has granted review of the decision of the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Gerawan Farming, Inc. v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board. The case will consider whether the “Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation” (MMC) law is unconstitutional and, if not, may an employer oppose a certified union’s request for referral to the MMC process by asserting that the union has “abandoned” the bargaining unit.
Western Growers anticipates that it will join with other agricultural trade associations in support of Gerawan by filing an amicus brief with the court as we have done in the past.
The 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento upheld the MMC law in 2006. But in May, the Court of Appeal in Fresno reversed a decision of the ALRB and found the MMC law unconstitutional on its face and as applied to Gerawan. The Supreme Court is now set to resolve the split between the two appellate courts and decide once and for all whether the MMC law is constitutional or not.
The legal battle between Gerawan Farming and the United Farm Workers Union and the ALRB has dragged on for about three years. The saga began when the union won an election to represent Gerawan workers in 1992, but after initial contract negotiations stalled, the union walked away from the workers. Then in 2012, the UFW returned to Gerawan claiming it still had the right to represent the workers. After several negotiation sessions, during which the UFW never made an economic proposal, the UFW asked the ALRB to invoke the MMC provisions. Enacted in 2003, the MMC law essentially forces farm employers into binding arbitration that ultimately results in a collective bargaining agreement being imposed on the employer and employees.
Gerawan challenged the MMC order that would have resulted in a contract being forced upon it and Gerawan’s employees. Meanwhile Gerawan’s employees petitioned the ALRB for a new election to decertify the union. After ALRB officials unsuccessfully attempted to thwart the decertification election, an election was held in November 2013 where thousands of workers are believed to have turned out to force the UFW away, but the ALRB has impounded the ballots. After hearing months of witness testimony, an administrative law judge will eventually determine whether the union’s alleged election challenges and unfair labor practice charges against Gerawan tainted the election or whether the workers will finally have their ballots counted.