Judge Finds That One of Largest Agricultural Employers Violated Labor Law in Bargaining Dispute
In April, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board’s administrative law judge ruled that Gerawan—one of the largest fruit tree growers in the United States—violated labor laws by excluding workers from a collective bargaining agreement and refusing to bargain in good faith.
Specifically, the company was found to have engaged in collective bargaining with the United Farm Workers union concerning the wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment, all without having any intention of reach an agreement with the union. The judge also ruled that Gerawan had illegally excluded workers hired through the farm labor contractor from the bargaining agreement. As a result, direct hire employees and those hired by farm labor contractors are owed thousands in back wages and benefits.
The Case & Law
In this case, Gerawan Farming, Inc. was specifically accused of engaging in bad faith “surface bargaining” in violation of labor code while negotiating for a collective-bargaining agreement with the United Farm Workers of America–the certified representative of its agricultural employees–as well as proposing and insisting that the terms of the agreement would not apply to the employees of the company’s farm labor contractors, who were also members of the certified bargaining unit.
The long-established “certified-until-decertified” Agricultural Labor Relations Board principle provides that, except in cases where the union disclaims interest in representing the bargaining unit or becomes defunct, the union remains certified until removed or replaced through the Labor Relation Act’s election procedures, regardless of any hiatus or inactivity that may have occurred. In addition, labor code excludes farm labor contractors as employers under the Act by design and deems an agricultural employer utilizing labor provided by a Farm Labor Contractor (FLC) to the employer of the FLC workers for purposes of collective bargaining under the Act. Thus, when a unit description set forth in a Labor Relations Board certification refers to the agricultural employees of a particular grower, it automatically includes both the grower’s direct hires and those agricultural workers employed by the FLCs the grower utilizes.
Here, bad faith bargaining specifically involved threatening and coercing worker members of a union’s bargaining committee, engaging in unspecified surveillance, undermining the union’s status as the employee bargaining representative, and engaging in direct dealing with employees. A complaint was also filed against the company containing allegations of unlawful conduct arising from 21 separate unfair labor practice charges. The judge ordered Gerawan to cease and desist from its unlawful conduct and once again bargain with the union, this time in good faith, as well as send notice of the decision to all of its agricultural employees and farm labor contractor employees who were working from January through August 2013, and post notice of the ruling.
Florida Labor Law & Employment Attorney
If you feel that labor laws have been violated in conjunction with an employment contract and/or collective bargaining, contact Florida employment agreement attorney Rob Norell to schedule a comprehensive consultation.