A major Central Valley grower lost its long-running battle over a labor union contract Monday.

The California Supreme Court ruled against Gerawan Farming, rejecting its arguments that it should not have to accept a mandatory labor contract with the United Farm Workers.

The nearly 30-year battle centered on whether Gerawan could refuse to accept a mandatory mediation and conciliation (MMC) contract, imposed by the state when labor negotiations failed. Gerawan claimed that the UFW abandoned farm workers in the 1990s shortly after organizing them. Contract negotiations have proved unfruitful since.

The farming company also argued before the court in September that MMCs were unconstitutional, violating equal protection principals. The state’s high court disagreed, writing “the MMC statute neither violates equal protection nor unconstitutionally delegates legislative power.”

The unanimous 48-page ruling also said using abandonment as a defense not to negotiate with a union is “untenable.”

“The Legislature intended to reserve the power to decertify labor organization representatives to employees and labor organizations alone. Allowing employers to raise an abandonment defense would frustrate that intent and undermine the (Agricultural Labor Relations Act’s) comprehensive scheme of labor protections for agricultural employees,” the court wrote.

UFW and Gerawan Respond to Ruling

In an e-mailed statement, UFW president Arturo Rodriguez said, “Now that the Mandatory Mediation Law has been upheld, after four years of stalling, giant Gerawan Farming Inc. should immediately honor the union contract hammered out by a neutral state mediator in 2013 and pay its workers the more than $10 million it already owes them.”

Gerawan attorney David Schwarz told GV Wire: “We believe that coerced contracts are constitutionally at odds with free choice. The employees are entitled to the dignity and respect that they earned by giving them what is their right. A secret ballot election allows them to decide for themselves who will speak for them at the bargaining table.

“We intend to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review today’s decision.”

Gerawan Farming also issued a written statement pointing out that the “decision does not strip our employees of the right to decide whether the UFW can represent them. The majority of our employees asked for the right to make that decision for themselves.”

The case is Gerawan Farming Inc. vs. Agricultural Labor Relations Board and United Farm Workers of America (case #S227243).

Assemblyman Jim Patterson quickly took to Twitter to express his reaction to the decision.

 

Check back with GV Wire for updates later today.

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