The United Farm Workers union violated the rights of farm workers by denying them entry into a 2015 public meeting, a judge ruled in a recent decision.

An Agricultural Labor Relations Board judicial ruling found that a UFW organizer deceived hotel security when asking them not to let about 25 blue-shirt wearing union protesters into a public ALRB meeting that took place at the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Fresno on Sept. 9, 2015.

The meeting’s purpose was to discuss an ALRB policy to allow staff to visit agricultural worksites “in order to educate farmworkers about their rights in the Agricultural Labor Relations Act,” according to the court ruling.

The protesters represented Pick Justice, a group of Gerawan Farming employees unhappy with UFW representation. Jesse Rojas, Pick Justice spokesman, said they were there to speak on ALRB’s policy. Pick Justice also planned to protest the ALRB’s decision not to count votes in an election that could have decertified the UFW as representatives at Gerawan.

UFW Told Security to Deny Pick Justice Entry

According to the 36-page ruling, the hotel’s security staff, believing that UFW employee Nancy Oropeza was an organizer of the event, acceded to her wishes to deny Pick Justice entry. She told security that Pick Justice would be disruptive to the meeting.

Security allowed red-shirt wearing pro-UFW farm workers into the meeting.

A video provided to GV Wire by Pick Justice, and also used by the ALRB judge, begins with a security guard denying entry to the Pick Justice protesters in front of the hotel.

The uniformed guard tells attorney Gerardo Hernandez that he is just doing his job. Hernandez says “that is going to be an issue.” He then goes inside to speak with his colleague, attorney Anthony Raimondo, who eventually brought the complaint against UFW to the ALRB.

Raimondo is then heard speaking with a man that the court document identifies as the hotel’s head of security, Hector Lopez

“This is a public hearing,” Raimondo told Lopez.

“We’ve been instructed by the organizer … ,” Lopez replied. He then points to a woman wearing a pink shirt, identified as Oropeza.

Raimondo then seeks out ALRB administrator Antonio Barbosa, who corrects the situation and tells the security guard to let the Pick Justice protesters in before the meeting started.

Judge’s Ruling

“The UFW’s “virtual blockading” of anti-UFW workers from an ALRB hearing is a very serious unfair labor practice even if it was quickly halted once ALRB staff learned about the ruse,” wrote Administrative Law Judge Mark Soble in his Dec. 11, 2017 decision.

“By directing or misleading the hotel security guards, UFW employee Nancy Oropeza was undermining worker confidence in the Act and the Board. If an employer representative impersonated a government official to restrain a worker from testifying, there is no doubt that the UFW would consider the allegation to be egregious,” Soble continued.

Soble was harsh in his assessment of Oropeza’s testimony.

“The most reasonable conclusion is that Oropeza misled the security guards and knew that her ruse had been uncovered. I did not credit any of Nancy Oropeza’s testimony.”

Soble also criticized his own ALRB investigators. In a footnote about ALRB field examiner Leonardo Pescador’s interview with hotel security chief Hector Lopez, Soble wrote “I find that Pescador’s recollection of the Hector Lopez interview was not very sharp. While I allowed the regional office notes to be read into the transcript, I did not rely upon them in reaching any of my findings, because the video and witness testimony was far more persuasive.”

“This shocking news. For years, the ALRB has been the UFW’s enforcer,” Pick Justice’s Jesse Rojas said. “Now, its administrative judge seems like he’s trying to make things right.”

Punishment

UFW will be required to cease and desist from preventing employees to exercise their protected rights. Also, the UFW must post a notice at all of its offices, as well as offices of Gerawan Farming and the Visalia ALRB office, of its wrongdoing. Those notices must also be mailed to all employees of Gerawan.

The proposed notice reads:

After investigating a change that was filed in the Visalia Regional Office of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (“ALRB”), the General Counsel of the ALRB issued a complaint that we, the United Farm Workers of America, had violated the law. After a hearing at which all parties had an opportunity to present evidence, the Board found that we did violate the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (“Act”) on September 9, 2015 by directing or misleading private hotel security into excluding anti-UFW workers from attending an ALRB hearing on allowing ALRB staff access into the fields to educate farm workers about the Act. The workers were let inside as soon as ALRB staff found out what had happened, which was prior to the actual start of the meeting.

The case is United Farm Workers (Lopez), No. 2015-CL-006-VIS.

GV Wire reached out to UFW for reaction. This story will be updated if we hear from the UFW.

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