Gerawan Farming employees cast votes Nov. 5 in a long sought election to decide whether United Farm Workers continues to represent them, but it may be months before they’re counted.
“The votes are impounded in an (Agriculture Labor Relations Board) safe and will not be opened until the legal issues are resolved,” said Ron Barsamian, attorney for Fresno, Calif.-based Gerawan Farming. “That could take a few months, but at least we got an election before the season ended.”
United Farm Workers and Gerawan Farming each raised multiple legal issues in a running dispute over whether the company engaged in unfair labor practices and whether the union should go on representing about 2,500 field workers.
The election was at Gerawan sites in Kerman and Reedley, Calif. “We had an extremely good turnout,” Barsamian said.
The number of votes cast won’t be determined until the impoundment ends.
The state Agriculture Labor Relations Board cleared the way for the vote by reversing a decision of Silas Shawver, one of its regional directors.
Shawver on Sept. 25 rejected a petition for an election, citing insufficient signatures and some forgeries. A subsequent petition settled the signature count issue, but on Oct. 31 he ruled the election would remain blocked until Gerawan Farming resolved complaints about labor practices.
The alleged practices, outlined in an Oct. 30 complaint by Shawver and the board’s general counsel, Sylvia Torres-Guillen, include:
- denial of union requests for information;
- failure to acknowledge the union as the employees’ certified representative; and
- unilateral changes to terms of employment.
But the board let the vote proceed, citing a precedent against using “stale or eleventh-hour charges” to stop it.
“The issuance of a complaint so close in time to the election leaves us with serious doubts as to the propriety of using that complaint to block the election,” chairman Genevieve Shiroma and two board members wrote in their ruling. Some of the alleged unfair practices had already been remedied, they found.
“(The) decision is an historic event,” according to a statement from Ray, Mike, Dan and Norma Gerawan before the vote. “We are humbled by the perseverance of so many workers who never gave up hope that the board would listen to their pleas. For the second time this week, the board overturned a decision by the regional director that would have snuffed out that right.”
United Farm Workers became certified at Gerawan Farming in 1992. No collective bargaining agreement was established and negotiations ended in 1995, according to board records. The union contacted the company in October 2012, seeking to resume talks.