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Supreme Court rules in favor of private property rights

Pacific Legal Foundation Mike Fahner, Pacific Legal.jpg
PRIVATE PROPERTY GETS A WIN: Mike Fahner, owner and president of Cedar Point Nursery, successfully fought a law that allowed union protesters to gather on his farm.
California law found unlawful that allows union organizers right to organize on private landowners’ property.

In a victory for property owners, the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed in a ruling June 23 that the government cannot force people to allow third parties to trespass on their property.

In Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, two California agriculture businesses challenged a state law that allowed unions to access private property three hours per day, 120 days per year to recruit new members. Pacific Legal Foundation represented the businesses at the Supreme Court, arguing that when the government allows a third party onto someone else’s private property without compensating the property owners, it violates their property rights.

The ruling is a huge victory for property rights, explains Pacific Legal Foundation senior attorney Joshua Thompson, who argued the case before the court.

“Today’s decision affirms that one of the most fundamental aspects of property is the right to decide who can and can’t access your property. Pacific Legal Foundation is proud to have represented Cedar Point Nursery and Fowler Packing Company at the Supreme Court.”

Cedar Point Nursery and Fowler Packing Company are California growers that produce fruit for millions of Americans. Collectively, they employ around 3,000 Californians. On-farm agriculture operations have been excluded from federal labor law since 1935. California filled this gap by creating its own law in 1975, the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act. The ALRA differs from federal law in several key areas, most notably giving union organizers the right to physically access the farm property in order to solicit support for unionization.

In 2015, the United Farm Workers viewed the workers as a prime opportunity and sent organizers to enter the workplaces during harvest time to encourage them to unionize. Even though property owners have a right to exclude trespassers, the state’s Union Access Regulation takes an easement that allows these union organizers to enter a business’s private property three hours a day, 120 days a year. 

When the United Farm Workers union organizers demanded access to the owners’ property, the growers challenged this regulation as a state-sponsored “taking” of their property rights, without the just compensation guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

“In a 6-3 decision today, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the growers, holding that the ALRA’s access regulations were a per se violation because they allowed ‘physical invasion’ of the land without compensation," says Michael Droke, a senior partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney in its Food and Agriculture group.

In the predawn hours of October 29, 2015, dozens of union activists trespassed on Cedar Point Nursery’s property to recruit union members. They waved flags, shouted over bullhorns, intimidated the nursery’s staff and disrupted the workday. When the nursery’s owner and president Mike Fahner found out the action was legal in California, he decided to fight what he believed was an unconstitutional law.

“This decision protects everyone’s freedom to decide for themselves who is — and is not — allowed on their own property,” Fahner says. “We’re very happy with the Court’s ruling, and we’re excited to keep running our businesses without unlawful interference.”

Review policies

Droke says this case applies to agricultural employers only as non-agricultural employers are governed by the federal National Labor Relations Act. The NLRA allows employees to prohibit non-employee access to their property, Droke explains.

Agricultural employers should immediately review their policies and practices regarding on-farm access. “Access should be limited to employer-approved business. The policy/practice should also specify who is authorized to allow access," Droke says. 

He adds agricultural employers should clearly delineate what property is theirs, in order ensure that they can establish their property lines for purposes of union access. 

"Unions are still allowed to contact employers off the grower’s premises. It is often easy to see where the grower’s employees are located, because employee cars are parked at the side of the field. However, bussing workers to the job site may create wage and hour risk under generally-applicable California law," Droke says. 

 

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