FRESNO, Calif., Oct. 31, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- In a lawsuit filed this week in Fresno Superior Court, Gerawan Farming, Inc. challenged as "blatantly unconstitutional" a decision by the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (39 ALRB No. 13) (August 21, 2013) barring farmworkers from attending a state-ordered "on the record" proceeding to determine the wages and working conditions of thousands of Gerawan's workers.
Gerawan asked the court to reverse this unconstitutional "slap in the face to California farmworkers" and order the Board to open these "on the record" hearings to the public and farmworkers.
The Board rejected repeated requests by Lupe Garcia and other Gerawan workers to observe these Board-imposed proceedings, known as "Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation." Under MMC, one decision-maker dictates the terms of a binding labor contract, including the wages workers will be paid and whether they can be fired if they refuse to pay 3% of their wages to the UFW.
By choosing secrecy over transparency, Gerawan contends that the Board's so-called "Exclusion of Workers Decision" violates the First Amendment and the public's right of access to state-ordered "on the record" proceedings.
In April, 2013, the UFW resurfaced after a 20 year absence from the negotiating table, and demanded that the Board impose a contract on Gerawan and its workers under the MMC process. The Board ruled that the UFW's 20 year failure to attempt to negotiate an agreement did not bar its demand to invoke MMC, and ordered Gerawan into this compulsory procedure.
MMC begins with Board-ordered mediation before a single decision-maker. After that decision-maker determines that the mediation phase of MMC has been "exhausted," this decision-maker conducts on the record hearings during which sworn testimony is taken about farmworker wages, benefits, and working conditions. The ALRB ruled that these on the record hearings must be held in secret for no reason other than the ALRB's preference for secrecy rather than openness.
The ALRB, which labeled this ruling the "Exclusion of Workers Decision," was handed down after a Gerawan farmworker, Lupe Garcia, asked to attend the on the record proceedings held on August 8 and 19, 2013. The UFW objected to his attendance. The decision-maker sided with the UFW, and barred Mr. Garcia and 15 other Gerawan farmworkers from observing the closed door process by which their contractual rights were being determined. Mr. Garcia then asked the ALRB for help and was rebuffed. The ALRB ruled that Mr. Garcia was not permitted to attend the secret proceedings, nor was anyone else from the public or the press.
At the same time, the UFW hand-picked workers to attend the same proceedings. Had the UFW wanted Mr. Garcia to attend, the ALRB would have permitted him to attend. The Board's "Exclusion of Workers Decision" gives the UFW exclusive control as to which farmworkers could or could not attend, and validates both the secrecy of these proceedings and the UFW's unilateral power to exclude workers from observing a process vital to their livelihoods.
The ALRB recognized that Mr. Garcia's request to attend the proceeding "presents an issue of first impression which, if left unresolved, could potentially result in the deprivation of constitutionally protected rights." The ALRB then slammed the door in Mr. Garcia's face and told him that the "public interest" would be not served by "public presence" at the proceeding. There is no authority supporting the ALRB's decision that secret proceedings are somehow in the public interest, or why those most directly affected by these closed door processes should be barred.
The ALRB held: "We do not see how public access would play a significant positive role in the functioning of [the] MMC." Gerawan called the decision "constitutionally backward" because it wrongly placed the burden on Mr. Garcia to somehow prove that a non-secret proceeding was in the "public interest" when as a matter of law open proceedings are the rule, not the exception.
Counsel for Gerawan, David A. Schwarz, stated: "In 2004, California voters overwhelmingly approved the 'Sunshine Amendment' to our state constitution. That amendment grants 'the people' of the State of California the right of public access to public proceedings. This case tests whether state agencies like the ALRB must follow this constitutional directive."
Background on related ALRB and Gerawan matters and a copy of the complaint can be found at http://prima.com/news.
SOURCE Gerawan Farming, Inc.