Another labor pain for industry in California

11/18/2011 09:01:00 AM
Don Schrack

Late fall is one of the year’s slower ag times in California’s San Joaquin and Salinas valleys.
Mind you, slower is relative.
The 2011-12 navel harvest is moving into high gear — along with satsumas and others of the zipper rind family. 
Late-season varieties of table grapes will be picked and packed well into December. 
But the rural roads are less congested, save for the California desert where the winter vegetable season is ramping up.
The season’s apple, asian pear, nut and kiwifruit harvests are done — or in their final throes. Same for pomegranates. Persimmons are in their short season.
So most California grower-shippers can relax and enjoy the holidays.
Not so fast.
More legislation
Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the so-called card check bill. 
He did, however, sign a compromise bill, a document that not so subtly changes the state’s 1975 Agriculture Relations Labor Act and could rear its ugly head come 2012 and beyond.
Attorney Joe Herman has been hip deep in California labor law for a half century. 
He sees more than a few pitfalls in the compromise bill, officially S.B. 126, crafted by Senate President Pro Tem Darrel Steinberg. 
Steinberg is no friend of agriculture or business, but long a political bedfellow of the United Farm Workers.
“Even before S.B. 126, the (Agriculture Relations Labor Act) was the most pro-union labor law in the U.S., either at the federal or state level,” Herman said. 
“S.B. 126 will further tilt the table in favor of unions and against farming employers in several significant ways.”
Details
Among the more egregious ways, he said, the law:
u increases the governor-appointed Labor Relations Board’s power to issue bargaining orders;
u permits the board to vacate election results if the union loses and to order the grower to recognize the union and negotiate a contract;
u permits the board to override the employees’ vote and force union representation on them; and,
u removes the right of a grower to appeal to the courts if the board vacates the results of an election.
“S.B. 126 is likely to result in a substantial increase in labor costs,” Herman said.
This in a state where growers are already paying the nation’s highest regulatory costs.
If in the future California grower-shippers, who produce a fair chunk of the fruits and vegetables consumed in and out of this country, ask for higher f.o.b.s, you’ll know why.
dschrack@thepacker.com
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