Organized farm labor took on Gerawan Farming in a legal battle over labor contracts, and won. A huge fruit farm conglomerate that produces fruit across the United States, Gerawan fought for the right to create a labor contract that the farmworkers’ union opposed. Previous court rulings dating back to 2002 mandated that California could intervene to determine wages and working conditions when disputes arose, and the California Supreme Court upheld those rulings one more time.
Essentially, the ruling supports a law giving the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board the right to force negotiations to go to mediation in the event an agreement cannot be reached within 30 days of the bargaining initiation. Mediators then are authorized to determine the terms of the agreement and force both sides to abide by those terms.
Here is how it works: Both parties submit their arguments and evidence to a mediator, who then determines a course of action. A report is submitted to the board outlining the mediator’s findings and conclusions. The terms of the new agreement are then binding for both sides.
Activists contend that the 2002 law providing Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation (MMC) is essential to the safe and stable working conditions of California farmworkers. Without it, they say, employers could stall contract negotiations in order to put off coming to a reasonable agreement, degrading workers’ ability to improve contract hour requirements, wages, and other issues that impact employees.
Gerawan Farming’s Position
On the other hand, Gerawan argues that government overreach is interfering with their ability to determine the terms for their agreement with employees. They called contracts that are composed by the government “coerced,” and said they are “constitutionally at odds with free choice.” Additionally, because UFW has not had a vote for representatives in nearly 20 years, Gerawan disputed the UFW’s right to represent workers at all.
The Court Ruling
Because mediators are given ample guidance as to how to reconcile contract disputes when impasse occurs, and because they are directed to work toward achieving collective bargaining agreements that consider the individual circumstances associated with various employers, the justices determined that arbitrariness was not an issue with (MMC), and the law was not unconstitutional.
As to the issue of whether or not the UFW had any standing to represent farmworkers at this point in time, the court rejected Gerawan’s legal challenge, stating that workers deserve the right to be represented.
Promoting Workers’ Rights
At HKM, our seasoned and aggressive legal team advocates on behalf of employees in disputes with their employers. If you find yourself wondering whether or not you want to take on a powerful company, keep in mind that the constitution was written to protect individuals just like yourself. Come in to our Los Angeles office to discuss your case and see what we can do for you.