Californian Farmer struggles with unions – for decades

source: L.A. Times, By GEOFFREY MOHAN (excerpt)

The signs along the driveway into Gerawan Farming warn away job seekers, visitors and anyone trying to take photographs or record video.

Dan Gerawan, president of the growing and packing company in the eastern San Joaquin Valley, said those measures aim to protect business secrets at the state’s biggest producer of peaches, plums and other stone fruit.

Others see the signs as a not-so-subtle message to the United Farm Workers of America, which is trying to bring Gerawan’s 3,000 fieldworkers under a labor contract, more than two decades after winning the right to represent them.

The widely watched struggle between Gerawan Farming and the UFW has altered the labor-grower battlefield — overthrowing the state’s right to impose labor contracts through a mediator and revealing internal rifts and shortcomings at the board charged with keeping labor battles peaceful and brief.

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The California Supreme Court now is being asked to review a lower court’s rejection of the so-called mandatory mediation and conciliation provision of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, a law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in his first term 40 years ago.

Should the decision in the Gerawan case stand, power could shift decisively toward growers, and the lengthy stalemates that once marked collective bargaining could return.

Meanwhile, Gerawan workers, reportedly among the highest paid in the industry, have tried to decertify UFW as their official bargaining representative. Several thousand ballots they cast nearly two years ago remain impounded, however, as an administrative law judge weighs whether Gerawan Farming instigated and abetted the vote.

The election proceeding, which also involved a handful of unfair labor allegations, took up nearly six months of hearings and produced some 20,000 pages of testimony from about 130 witnesses.

So it came as no surprise that William B. Gould IV, appointed by Brown last year as chairman of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, marked the 40th anniversary of the act by bemoaning “litigation without end” and a “500-pound gorilla” blocking the peace in the fields promised by the statute.

“I’m not unused to turmoil and controversy,” Gould said. “It really kind of goes with the turf. But it hasn’t been easy.”

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