Labor case on hold as Ace Tomato closes - The Packer

Labor case on hold as Ace Tomato closes

12/14/2012 12:31:00 PM
Mike Hornick

Ace TomatoAs its acquisition by Lipman brings growing, packing and sales by Manteca, Calif.-based Ace Tomato Co. to an expected Dec. 31 end, the company is finishing operations buoyed by a favorable court ruling in a labor dispute.

Immokalee, Fla.-based Lipman plans to integrate Ace Tomato’s packinghouse into its national operations in 2013. Lipman acquired the assets in a July agreement.

Since then, Ace Tomato has benefited from a court-ordered stay on efforts by the state’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board and United Farm Workers to enforce contract terms set by a mediator.

Mediator Matthew Goldberg’s report, upheld by the board, based wages on a June contract between the union and Tracy, Calif.-based tomato grower-shipper Pacific Triple E Ltd. Ace Tomato offered an 8% increase to 54 cents per 30-pound bucket of round tomatoes, or $1.08 per round trip. Pacific Triple E agreed to $1.12, Carrol said. Ace offered $1.22 on romas, which get a premium.

The stay, issued Oct. 17 by the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno, has been upheld by an administrative law judge.

“We achieved a unique result in the annals of Agricultural Labor Relations Board history in that we appealed a crazy mandatory mediation scenario which resulted in a contract based inappropriately on one Pacific Triple E entered,” said Rob Carrol, partner in Nixon Peabody, Ace’s law firm. “It’s pretty exciting for Ace to make a little good law for companies, for a change.”

The ruling prevents further actions against Ace Tomato until issues raised in its appeal are resolved, Carrol said.

“To issue a stay, the court had to conclude that our client would be irreparably harmed if the ALRB were allowed to proceed both with its court challenges as well as internal administrative charges they’re processing,” he said. “And that we have a reasonable likelihood of success on the appeal.”

Lipman will not inherit the labor dispute. “Because it’s an asset sale, Lipman can operate nonunion or do what they want,” Carrol said.

Ace Tomato lawyers had argued that a comparison with Pacific Triple E, a company that also operates in Florida and Mexico, was not relevant to its smaller operations. The grower-packer also objected that tomato pickers were not direct employees, but paid by contractors who did not participate in negotiations.



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