June 24, 2021

U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down Ag Union Access Rule

In a 6-3 decision, split along ideological lines, the Supreme Court Wednesday struck down as unconstitutional the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board regulation that permits union organizers to enter a farmer’s property to solicit employees about supporting a union.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said that when “the government physically acquires private property for a public use,” the Fifth Amendment’s takings clause “imposes a clear and categorical obligation to provide the owner with just compensation.” The Court found that the access regulation clearly creates a right to invade the grower’s property and therefore is a physical taking of property. Roberts reasoned that by giving union organizers “a right to physically enter and occupy the grower’s land for three hours per day, 120 days per year,” the access regulation takes away the owner’s right to exclude others from the property – which is one of the most important rights of owning property.

The lawsuit was brought by Cedar Point Nursery, a northern California strawberry grower, and Fowler Packing Co., a Fresno-based grapes and citrus shipper, in federal court. The companies challenged access regulation, arguing that by giving the union organizers access to their property, the regulation created a legal right to use the property without their consent and without compensation, in violation of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. The lower courts sided with the state, but the two companies, represented by Pacific Legal Foundation, persuaded the Supreme Court to hear the case. Western Growers filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of the companies, which was joined by California Fresh Fruit Association, Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, and Ventura County Agricultural Association.

The court held that the access rule is a “per se” taking (i.e., one that involves a major intrusion of private property) for which just compensation must be paid to the property owner, as opposed to a mere “regulatory taking” which involve more minor restrictions on property, such as zoning ordinances.

Following the decision, Western Growers President and CEO Dave Puglia issued a statement on behalf of the Association.