WSJ September 22, 2018

By The Editorial Board | 429 words

Workers at Dan Gerawan’s third-generation family farm in Fresno, Calif., voted five long years ago to decertify the United Farm Workers. Their ballots were finally counted this week following a tortuous battle that illustrates how liberal government often subjugates individual worker rights to union politics.

Soon after winning an election at Gerawan Farming in 1990, the United Farm Workers disappeared. Two decades later the union returned to claim its orphaned members and demand that Gerawan’s 5,000 workers—few of whom were employed there in 1990—agree to a labor contract skimming 3% of their wages for dues.

Labor conditions on farms have greatly improved since the days of Cesar Chavez, and the UFW’s membership has shrunk by more than 90% since the 1970s. Gerawan pays its workers on average $21.96 per hour for picking grapes in addition to covering their children’s Catholic school tuition. Its workers had no interest in joining the union and launched a decertification petition.

The union then began a harassment campaign that included home visits and physical threats. After workers obtained some 3,000 signatures, the UFW complained without evidence that Mr. Gerawan was promoting the petition. The state Agricultural Labor Relations Board required that Mr. Gerawan give its staff access to his fields ostensibly to educate workers about their rights.

But following the November 2013 election, the union and the board’s labor-friendly general counsel howled that Mr. Gerawan had interfered by offering workers a “well-timed” raise. The board sided with the union and impounded the ballots. Meantime, the union invoked a state labor law championed by Democrats to impose a contract over the objections of workers.

Mr. Gerawan supported by workers sued the Agricultural Labor Relations Board. Last November California’s high court ruled that the compulsory contract did not violate Mr. Gerawan’s due process rights, though the Supreme Court is considering a petition for a rehearing next week.

Some good news finally came last week when the state Supreme Court sustained an appellate-court decision that rebuked the board for failing “to accord sufficient value, weight and importance to the employees’ fundamental right to choose via secret ballot election.” The board “was apparently so zealous to punish this employer, it lost sight of the importance of the election itself” and “unnecessarily disenfranchised the workers,” the court ruled.

According to the final ballot tally, workers had voted by a 5 to 1 margin to decertify the union. It’s shameful that workers had to wait five years for this vindication, and their saga is another example of the often abusive power of a Big Labor-government condominium.