January 16, 2015

UFW’s Attempt to Circumvent Grievance-Arbitration Procedure Denied

UFW represents the agricultural employees of long-time Western Growers member San Joaquin Tomato Growers (SJTG) pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that was imposed upon on the employer  in a Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation (MMC) proceeding. UFW filed a case with the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) claiming SJTG failed to comply with the CBA. San Joaquin responded that the union failed to provide evidence of the allegations, and even if such violations had occurred, the exclusive remedy would be the grievance-arbitration procedure contained in the CBA.

The Board, with newly appointed Chairman William Gould in charge, took the unusual step of inviting amicus (friend-of-the-court) briefs to answer nine questions, including whether the Board should or could order enforcement of the CBA and whether the grievance-arbitration procedures under the ALRB needed to be exhausted, among others.

Western Growers staff , California Farm Bureau Federation, and Ventura County Agricultural Association attorneys collaborated on one brief, and attorneys Ron Barsamian and Robert Carrol of Barsamian & Moody and Nixon Peabody, respectively, submitted amicus briefs. Spencer Hipp, an attorney with Littler Mendelson, represents SJTG. The UFW filed its brief one day late, so the Board rejected it as untimely and declined to consider their brief.

In a great win for San Joaquin Tomato Growers and for the industry generally, the Board agreed with the employer and industry’s position that UFW failed to exhaust its grievance-arbitration remedies under the CBA and declined to take any action in the case.