and ALRB Want to Impose Contract on Gerawan Employees
“The UFW won an election to represent
Gerawan workers 23 years ago; but then, after only one bargaining session, the union
disappeared and hasn’t been heard from in 20 years,” Gerawan Farming said in
a recent statement. “Last October, the
union reappeared and is using decade-old legislation to now impose a contract
on the employer and the employees without a vote.”
California Ag Today Associate Editor Laurie Greene interviewed Dan
Gerawan this week on what he is going through regarding the UFW and
Greene: Please introduce your company’s
products, # employees, etc.
Gerawan: Gerawan Farming Inc., which grows and ships
under the Prima label, is the world's
largest peach grower and employs about 3,000 workers. The company also farms
table grapes, nectarines, and plums. We are a family-owned and operated company. Despite
our size, I farm with my father, Ray, my brother, Mike, and my wife, Norma.
We are very hands-on; this is what we do.
Greene: There are press reports that Gerawan is having a
dispute with the UFW. What is that dispute?
We are not having a dispute with the UFW. Our employees are having a dispute. As
a company, our dispute is with the state government that is trying to force a
contract on us without giving the workers an opportunity to vote. People need
to understand that this is not a normal union situation; it has to do with a
law being used for something it was never meant for.
What is your stance on employees having a vote?
Gerawan: We believe the employees should have a
vote, and they have made it known they want a vote. They are not saying how
they will vote; they just want a vote. When they often express their opinions
to us, we stop them and say, “Don’t tell us your preference; we support your
right to vote, that’s enough. Everything else is your choice.”
Can you describe the chronology of your circumstances with the UFW and ALRB?
We lost an election with the UFW in 1990. We had our only bargaining session in
1995. There was never a contract, and the union failed to continue bargaining.
The union disappeared; they abandoned our workers.
this day, we don’t know why. They have told us, “We have no legal
obligation to tell you.” We responded, “But you do have a moral
obligation. How can you come back after 20 years and tell our workers that you
want 3% of their money or you are going to fire them?”
UFW wrote us a letter in October 2012 saying, “We’re ready to negotiate.” At
the time, we couldn’t believe it since the employees didn’t even know they were
represented by the union and had been working quite happily earning the
industry’s highest wages. But then attorneys explained to us that the UFW would
force us into a mandatory process where the state would actually impose the
contract on us and our employees, and we would have no right to opt out.
the UFW pretended to negotiate for a while. After just eight brief bargaining
sessions over a three-month period, during which the UFW never made an economic
proposal, the UFW suddenly asked the government to step in to write and impose
a contract us.
Can you explain the Mandatory Mediation Law?
In 2002, the state legislature passed an amendment to 1975’s Agricultural Labor
Relations Act. That amendment allowed for mandatory mediation to be imposed in
ag labor situations. However, ‘mediation’ is a misnomer; it is really mandatory
arbitration. The legislature passed the law in response to a few employers,
including one employer (not us) who supposedly dragged out negotiations for
many years, 20 years in that particular case.
When the legislature passed that 2002
law, their thought was that that if an employee votes for a union, they are
voting for a contract. However, in most industries, employees vote for representation
and negotiation for a contract. This is not a normal situation where the
union comes in to negotiate, with power, backing up the workers, and then the
two parties negotiate a mutual agreement. This is the union invoking a law that
allows the state to literally force a contract on the employer and employees.
in mind that the law was meant to remedy dragged-out negotiations. There were
no negotiations here to drag out; the union had disappeared. There is nothing
in the legislative history that shows the law was to be used in these
situations. The UFW’s and ALRB’s stance is basically, “The letter of the law… says
if you failed to reach an ‘agreement,’ we can invoke this.” We responded, “That
implies that you tried to reach an agreement. You guys never tried. You went
away.” Their response, “Well the law doesn’t say we had to try, so we are using
that law now to impose a contract.”
How do you respond to ALRB’s accusation of coercion and forgeries?
The Company has done nothing to coerce any signatures. We do not know anything
about forgeries. We don’t know how many there supposedly are. We don’t know who
caused those forgeries, and by that I mean I don’t know if they are saying we
caused them or the union caused them.
doesn’t take any coercion for the highest paid employees in the industry to
realize that it is wrong for a union to come back after a twenty-year absence
and tell them they will take 3% of their pay or fire them—without a vote. Not
even a vote to ratify any contract that might happen.
After hearing this for a few months and
being harassed at their homes multiple times by UFW people, the employees, on
their own, began a decertification effort. They started a petition and turned
it in to the ALRB. Immediately, the UFW started filing unfair labor practice
charges against us saying that we were coercing our employees. That is silly.
did not coerce, and in fact we invited ALRB to go out to our fields to make
sure the workers understood they have the right to vote however they want. The
ALRB did that.
also did that. My wife, Norma, and I met with all the employees and told them,
“Do whatever you want, choose however you want to choose. But congratulations
on having achieved that right through your petition. We are not asking how you
Could the signatures have been forged after you submitted them?
I really don’t know. All I know is thousands of signatures apparently were
in mind, the union does not want the employees to have a choice, and they are
fighting hard to stop the employees from having a choice, especially when the
adjudicating agency has shown overwhelming bias against the employer and the
ALRB’s role, under the Agriculture Labor Relations Act, is to protect employees’
rights as a whole and to cause peace in the fields (which we had before the UFW and ALRB came into
the situation). So why is the ALRB stopping the employees from having their
vote just because of a relatively few questionable signatures from an unknown
all, this is merely a vote.
need to keep in mind that this is a declining union that has been gone for twenty
years, has done nothing for these workers, and has returned only to pick the
pockets of the industry’s highest paid workers and not even allow them to have
a vote. I think it is unconscionable that the ALRB has done nothing to stop it,
but in fact has taken every opportunity to accommodate this travesty.
Greene: Gerawan Farming has claimed that the ruling by Silas Shawver, regional director of
ALRB, failed to provide a count of signatures filed, the number needed for a
vote, and the number judged invalid.
This is correct. The
ALRB blocked the election citing forgeries and coercion. Mr. Shawver is
refusing to give out any information.
wife and I informed our employees that the ALRB regional director in Visalia
canceled their vote because supposedly we and the management of our company
coerced our workers’ signatures. Our employees told me flat out that the only
coercion has come from UFW and ALRB themselves.”
continue this interview, please press "more" below!
What is behind the ALRB’s finding that Gerawan directly assisted the petitioner
and others in the decertification effort?
We have not directly assisted the petitioner. So, what the ALRB is saying is
not true. It is simply did not happen.
the employees turned in their petition, the ALRB did not announce an election.
The employees got very upset and demonstrated at the ALRB office in Visalia to
demand their right to vote.
did not respond, but subsequently cancelled the vote, citing forgeries and
coercion. The regional director is refusing to give out any information.
on September 30, over 1,500 of our employees reacted by going on
strike to protest the ALRB’s and UFW’s cancellation of the vote. We thought
we’d be harvesting peaches and grapes that day, but we didn’t.
Greene: Did Gerawan
support the stoppage?
Gerawan: Oh no, we did not support the
stoppage. We support the workers’ right to choose. But we did not want to see
work stopped because we had fruit to harvest that day. But because the workers
did stop, the cost for us was significant.
Greene: In a statement you said, “It is
unfortunate that our employees felt they needed to take such a drastic action
to have their voices heard. We are still hopeful that [the board] will protect
the workers’ right to choose.” Are employees grateful for your company’s
advocacy or opposed?
Gerawan: The employees have told us that
they are grateful that we support their right to choose. At no time have we
ever expressed a preference to them one way or the other. We want them to
What rights do the UFW and ALRB have?
Gerawan: The UFW itself doesn’t
have much power because they have such a small membership and are declining,
but they have been handed an inordinate amount of power by the legislature.
With such power, the UFW no longer needs workers’ support. They no longer need
to organize the way a normal union organizes. Their members are created by
legislation, not a vote.
are about to have a contract literally written for us by a state agency and
imposed on us. No one signs anything. Neither we nor our employees can opt out.
type of ag labor unrest hasn’t happened since the 60’s and 70’s, and back then
it was completely the opposite of what’s happening now. Back then, the workers
wanted union and government protections. Now, the workers are fighting to be
free from union coercion and government imposition. It’s hard to believe that
the very law that was created to protect farm worker rights is now being used
to rob those workers of their rights.
Why do you think the UFW is targeting Gerawan Farms?
I think they are going after the old abandoned elections.
have the highest paid employees in the table grapes and tree fruit industry. No
one disputes that, not even the union.
the way, the union has no contracts with table grapes or stone fruit farm
employees, and they have not been able to secure any. The last contract they
had was with a Hanford farmer, and after a few years, those workers voted to
throw the union out.
Clearly we are the biggest target,
especially for a union that now is barely 3,000 members. If they prevail
against our employees, this would double their size. Overnight, the majority of UFW
members will be co-opted members created by legislative fiat, not by worker
choice. The UFW needs this badly because
their expenses exceed their income, and this is all public knowledge.
Greene: What is the employer mandated to do?
To live within the terms of the contract. There will be no other option. As an
example of what the imposed contract will do, it will throw out our meritocracy,
which has been an important part of our success, and replace it with seniority.
That’s something we specifically told the ALRB arbitrator would harm us.
made it clear to the ALRB, “Do not mess with that. We have been a shining
example of success in creating high wages in an industry that has had a lot of
failures. Don’t mess with our formula for success, please.” They completely
ignored our plea.
any business having a contract written by the state and imposed on them–wages,
working conditions and everything else. It’s hard to believe that it is
actually happening, especially when we’re already paying the highest wages and
Greene: Did they have to prove any wrongdoing
to do this?
Gerawan: To invoke mandatory
mediation there has to be an unfair labor practice. We were found guilty of an
unfair labor practice in the 1990s after the election. I think it was for
laying off a crew at the end of the season.
that the union has come back, we have more unfair labor practice allegations.
For example, for the buses to Sacramento, that we had nothing to do with, we have
an unfair labor practice charge against us. For the employee walk out, that we
had nothing to do with and which cost us a huge amount of money, we have an
unfair labor charge against us.
adjudicates them? The ALRB. A charge does not mean you are truly guilty of
doing something; it only means that the union has accused you of something.
Greene: What are your other unfair labor practice
Gerawan: There have been many. It
seems to be part of the game. For example, last October, when the union came
in, we felt compelled to let our employees know about this. With our lawyers’
review, we sent our employees a letter with the facts only, but we received an
unfair labor practice charge just for that.
because the UFW suddenly decides to reappear after being gone twenty years, we
can no longer communicate with our employees?
the union files an unfair labor practice charge, the ALRB investigates, which
takes months. Then, they will often side with the union against the employer
and file official changes, which will eventually be heard by an administrative
law judge. It could be a year or more before the facts come out. Meanwhile, the
ALRB and UFW use those charges to damage your reputation, even though there has
been no proper discovery or hearing.
if the unfair labor charge is used to block an election, and the investigation
takes months, then the available time window for the election will probably
lapse, and the employees’ right to a vote will be taken away from them. The
system actually seems designed for that to happen.
Greene: Is there a
pattern of unfair labor practices against you?
Gerawan: They come in batches. We got seven
a few days ago for the bus trip, the strike, for whatever they conjure up. The
unfair labor practice charges are just one or two sentences. From the union
standpoint, they fill out a form, and then ALRB does the rest. ALRB sends their
team of investigators out to “prove or disprove the unfair labor practice,” but
I do not think they want to disprove anything. The ALRB has shown a clear
pattern of wanting to rob our employees of their right to choose.
Greene: Gerawan is well
known in taking good care of their employees. With this in mind, what could the
UFW offer that is missing?
Gerawan: First of all, wage-wise, we are
far above the rest of the industry. In fact, many in the industry have told me
that they cannot believe that this is happening to the company that pays the
highest wages and offers the best working conditions.
So what could the UFW possibly offer?
Whatever it is that the state feels it can force the grower to pay whether or
not it makes sense or is viable for the business. Again, this is not a normal
situation where union organizers represent workers at the bargaining table.
Greene: What is it like
for your employees?
Gerawan: The employees have told me that
they cannot believe this is happening to them. They say they left Mexico because
of things like this. They said, “You wait Dan, we’re going to have a vote.” I
said, guys, I hope you do, but you may not have the chance. The employees said,
“What do you mean? This is America! When the state hears that all we want is to
vote, then they will understand.”
I had to tell them that I was sorry that
this it is such a tragedy. We all assume that we will have the simple basic
right to vote, but apparently that’s not how it is anymore.
Greene: You have met
with Sylvia Torres-Guillén, the
general counsel with the California ALRB. How did your conversation go with
Gerawan: Yes, my wife and I met her
during one of our hearings. She was very cordial. We both had just heard my
attorney tell the Judge that ALRB was so biased that it would never let our
workers have a vote. We told her that we hoped that she would prove my attorney
wrong because our employees need her help to protect their right to vote.
She said she would let them vote if… at
which point I politely interrupted and pleaded to her that it was her
responsibility to get rid of the “if,” and to make sure the rights of the
workers were protected so that peace would be restored to our fields.
Labels: ALRB decertification, Gerawan and ALRB, Gerawan and UFW, Interview with Dan Gerawan, Mandatory Mediation Law and UFW, unfair labor practices and ALRB