Updated: Vote count favors decertification in disputed union election

Issue Date: September 19, 2018
By Kevin Hecteman

The vote tally from a long-delayed decertification election indicates employees at a Fresno County farm overwhelmingly voted to remove the United Farm Workers union as bargaining representative. The state Agricultural Labor Relations Board counted the votes Tuesday, nearly five years after they were cast.

Observers said the final vote count in the Gerawan Farming election was 1,098 for decertification and 197 to retain the UFW. Another 635 ballots were challenged, and 18 votes were declared invalid.

The vote occurred after the California Supreme Court let stand an appellate court's decision ordering the ALRB to tally the votes. Despite the count, farm-labor specialists say they do not expect quick resolution of the long-disputed election.

The case goes back nearly three decades. Employees of Gerawan Farming, which grows table grapes and tree fruit, voted for United Farm Workers representation in 1990, but no contract was ever signed. The UFW ceased bargaining activities in 1992—but returned in 2012, seeking a contract.

In response to a petition from Gerawan employees, the ALRB held the decertification election to end union representation in November 2013, only to impound the ballots and refuse to count them on grounds that Gerawan illegally interfered in the election.

The 5th District Court of Appeal ordered in June that the ballots be counted, holding that many of the unfair-labor-practice charges were groundless and that an informed decision as to whether Gerawan improperly influenced the election could not be made until the vote tally was known.

"(W)e instruct the Board to open the ballots and issue a tally, so that all relevant factors will be in view when it reconsiders the election decision," the appellate court wrote in its opinion.

The state's highest court, without comment, denied petitions for review of that opinion last week.

The California Farm Bureau Federation and other agricultural groups filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting Gerawan during the appeals phase.

Carl Borden, CFBF senior counsel, said the margin of victory for the decertification side is key.

"The big margin of victory for no union makes it unlikely that Gerawan's remaining unfair labor practices swayed voters to that end," Borden said.

The UFW continues as the bargaining representative of the Gerawan workforce, unless and until the ALRB issues a final ruling declaring the union lost the decertification election, Borden added.

Now that the votes have been counted, he said, the ALRB will need to resolve the challenged ballots in cases where, for example, the union claims an employee is a supervisor and thus not eligible for union representation or to vote, or the company claims a voter in the election was not eligible because of not being on the payroll immediately before the filing of the election petition.

The ALRB will have to re-evaluate whether, in light of the tally, Gerawan's remaining unfair labor practices warrant setting the election aside. Further court review will be available after the ALRB has made that determination, so Borden cautioned that a resolution of the long-running dispute could still take years.

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be reached at khecteman@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.