Years of protests and calls for the Agricultural Labor Relations Board to count ballots in the Gerawan Farming case ended this week with a tally and a huge win for employees seeking a divorce from the labor union they say never represented them.
Ballots left uncounted and sealed for five years were opened and counted in front of many witnesses Sept. 18 after the California Supreme Court ordered them counted in the latest chapter of legal battles pitting the United Farm Workers against a large agricultural employer.
The vote tally revealed that nearly 1,100 Gerawan employees did not want union representation, while 197 votes were cast in favor of the UFW.
George Radanovich, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association, applauded the vote count.
“Employees have a fundamental right to choose whether or not to be represented,” Radanovich said. “The Agricultural Labor Relations Board, together with the United Farm Workers, joined to work against the true voice of these employees.”
Assemblyman Jim Patterson likewise hailed the count for allowing the voice of the farmworker to be heard.
“If your vote truly is your voice, then today is proof that the voices of thousands of California farmworkers have been silenced for five years,” Patterson said in a prepared statement.
The overwhelming “no” vote means decertification of the UFW should take place soon as the ALRB must formally certify the vote that decertifies the union from representing Gerawan employees.
Gerawan employees were never subject to UFW representation resulting from contract negotiations, despite a 2013 union request for mandatory mediation and conciliation.
Employees immediately set out to decertify the union through a series of votes that were never counted. They charged that the union “abandoned” them in earlier contract negotiations that began after a 1990 vote by Gerawan employees to request union representation. Short-lived negotiations took place after the 1990 vote. Those negotiations ended when the union failed to return for future talks.
In 2012 the UFW requested renewed contract negotiation with Gerawan, refusing requests to explain their lengthy absence from the negotiating table. This sparked the decertification vote and various legal battles related to their absence.
Western Growers Association President Tom Nassif characterized the last-ditch effort by the UFW and ALRB to drag out the decertification vote as an attempt “to shield the UFW from the humiliation of its irrelevance.”
Nassif continued by calling on California to stop acting as a “surrogate of the UFW and move instead to guarantee justice for all agricultural workers.”
According to the California Fresh Fruit Association, UFW membership is estimated to be between 3,000 and 5,000 members, which is less than 1 percent of the agricultural labor force.