March 19, 2024

Farmworker Unionization Faces Legal Challenge Amidst Allegations of UFW Deception

A dispute has erupted between the United Farm Workers (UFW) and Wonderful Nurseries LLC in Wasco over the unionization of over 600 employees. The Agricultural Labor Relations Board’s (ALRB) Regional Director’s decision to certify the UFW’s majority support petition (card check) has been challenged by Wonderful, alleging that workers were misled into signing union support cards under the impression they were applying for federal benefits.

One hundred forty-eight workers, or over one-third of the workers whose names appeared on “authorization cards,” submitted sworn statements to the ALRB claiming that the UFW misled them about the purpose of the cards they signed. Most of these employees said they believed they were applying for a $600 COVID-19 relief payment for agricultural workers, funded by a USDA grant program, not expressing a desire to join the union. Furthermore, these workers explicitly stated they had no intention of voting for the UFW, accusing the union of deceitfully acquiring their signatures under the guise of facilitating access to the relief funds.

Despite objections from Wonderful and sworn statements from employees wishing to withdraw their purported support for the union, the Regional Director confirmed the UFW’s representation. This decision has sparked considerable debate over the fairness of the card check procedure authorized by Gov. Gavin Newsom in late 2022 and amended shortly thereafter by AB 113. The law enables the UFW to circumvent traditional secret ballot elections, raising concerns about the integrity of the unionization process. The ensuing legal conflict and claims of deceit highlight the validity of earlier worries regarding the protection of workers’ rights and the equitable enforcement of the card check framework.

Previous versions of similar legislation were vetoed by Governor Newsom in 2021, and before him by former Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009 and Jerry Brown in 2011, due to concerns about undermining secret ballot elections. In his 2021 veto message for AB 616, authored by Assemblyman Mark Stone, Governor Newsom pointed out “various inconsistencies and procedural issues related to the collection and review of ballot cards.” These concerns have manifested in the initial certifications under AB 113, demonstrating the practical implications of the issues Newsom and the former governors highlighted.