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May 19, 2015

Gerawan Appeals Court Victory Sets Stage for Hearing before CA Supreme Court

On May 14, 2015, a California appellate court issued its decision in Gerawan Farming Inc. v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board (United Farm Workers), setting up a possible future showdown between the parties in the California Supreme Court. Western Growers — and several other agricultural trade associations — filed an amicus brief in April of 2014 emphasizing the statutory and constitutional issues that are implicated in the case. The UFW has said that it plans to appeal the decision.

Gerawan challenged the ALRB’s ruling ordering the company to participate in a Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation (MMC) process and also challenged the constitutionality of the MMC statute itself. The California Fifth District Court of Appeal unanimously held that the MMC statute was unconstitutional and that the statute, even if constitutional, had not been properly applied to Gerawan by the ALRB, and that the ALRB abused its discretion by forcing Gerawan into compulsory arbitration.  

The Court held that the statute violated the equal protection clause of the state and federal constitutions, and unconstitutionally delegated legislative authority to an administrative agency. In stating that the UFW may have lost its right to represent the workers by abandoning them for almost 20 years, the court said, “A union that has had little or no contact with the employees or the employer over many years (here decades) would be unlikely to have an adequate working knowledge of the employees’ situation or their wishes. From the employees’ standpoint, [the UFW is] reappearing on the scene as something of a stranger.”

The Gerawan case creates a conflict of opinion among appellate courts; an appellate court in a different district upheld the MMC statute in 2006 (Hess Collection Winery v. ALRB). Recognizing the importance of the ruling, the Fifth District indicated that the issues might now go the California Supreme Court:  “We are not the highest court of review and hence do not presume to have the last word on this subject.”