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Appellate Win for Gerawan Farming

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May 2015

Court Strikes Down Compulsory Contracting Statute As Unconstitutional

Gerawan Farming Inc. prevailed in a landmark appellate case challenging the constitutionality of the forced contracting procedures under the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA).  Partner David A. Schwarz represented Gerawan and argued the appeal.

On May 14, 2015, a three-judge panel of the Fifth District of the California Court of Appeal in Fresno unanimously held that the “Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation” (MMC) provisions of the ALRA violate the equal protection clause of the state and federal constitutions, and unconstitutionally delegate legislative power to an administrative agency of the state.  The Court also held that union abandonment is a defense to invocation of the MMC procedure.

The ruling set aside the California Agricultural Labor Relation Board’s order which imposed on Gerawan and its employees a Board-drafted collective bargaining agreement.

“This decision has momentous ramifications for agricultural labor relations in the State of California and may be one of the most significant labor law decisions in the past decade. We are pleased and honored to have been able to represent the Gerawan family in this matter,” said Schwarz.

The decision was covered in over 60 newspapers across the nation because of its significance.

In its 58-page opinion, the Court ruled the statute unconstitutional on multiple grounds.  "We believe this is the first decision in the nation to strike down non-consensual interest arbitration applied to the private sector, which is why the decision has national implications," said Schwarz.  California is believed to be the only state that has passed private sector compulsory interest arbitration. 

The Court also held that Gerawan “should have been given an opportunity to prove abandonment to the board once UFW requested the MMC process,” concluding that the board “abused its discretion” when it compelled Gerawan into this forced contracting process “without properly considering Gerawan’s claim of union abandonment.” 

The Court continued: “It is clear that the employees’ right to a representative of their own choosing would be seriously jeopardized in the situation of abandonment by a union where, as here, the absentee union suddenly reappeared on the scene to demand the MMC process.” 

The Court concluded that Gerawan was permitted to raise the UFW’s abandonment as a defense to this forced contracting process “because only that result will preserve the ALRA’s purpose of protecting the employees’ right to choose.”

Thousands of Gerawan employees successfully petitioned for the right to hold an election to determine whether to decertify the UFW. That election was held 18 months ago in November 2013, but the state has to date refused to count the ballots. 

The case is Gerawan Farming, Inc. v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board, Case No. F068526 (Fifth District Court of Appeal, May 14, 2015).