CIRS Blog about Rural California
The California State Supreme Court Nov. 27 ruled against Gerawan Farming’s attempts to dismantle the state’s process for settling employment contract disputes.
Gerawan, one of the largest tree fruit farmers in the nation and based in Fresno County, has been locked in a battle with the United Farm Workers for four years over a union agreement with its workers.
The dispute has lead to numerous lawsuits, a failed attempt to kick the union out and several findings of unfair labor practices by the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board.
It has been 23 years since workers at a massive farming company in Fresno, Calif., led by labor icon Cesar Chavez, organized and voted to have the United Farm Workers union represent them.
Certifying a union does not guarantee a contract, and in the decades since the UFW came to Gerawan Farming, laborers have picked and sorted peaches and grapes without one. As the years have passed, many of the Gerawan workers who worked to unionize have moved on.
It has been so long that, just as a contract finally appeared to be forthcoming this year, some workers clamored to strip the UFW of its right to represent Gerawan workers. While union officials contend workers were prodded by management, the workers who repudiate the UFW ask where the union has been all these years.
"We got surprised because we never knew the union" represented us, said Silvia Lopez, a 15-year employee who has organized the UFW decertification campaign. "So many years working here, and then they show up and say they have a union there."
The situation at Gerawan is raising questions about whether California's landmark agricultural labor law, a signature achievement of Gov. Jerry Brown's first tenure, is working as intended to expedite contract disputes.