Gerawan Farming Operators Say: ALRB Decision that Proceedings Are Secret Is A Blatant Violation of the First Amendment
FRESNO, Calif., Aug. 2, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- In a letter to the ALRB today, Gerawan Farming, Inc. called a decision by the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (39 ALRB No. 11) barring 16 farmworkers from attending a state-mandated arbitration to determine their wages and working conditions "blatantly unconstitutional."
In a July 29, 2013 ruling, the ALRB, addressing an issue of "first impression," denied Lupe Garcia and 15 other farmworkers the right to attend the proceedings. The ALRB backed the arbitrator's decision that the proceedings are "confidential and only open to the parties," not the public or the affected workers. The next session is set for August 8, 2013, in Modesto, California.
Mike Gerawan, a co-owner of the farm, said, "It's hard for me to believe that the employees who contribute so much to our success are not even allowed to attend the negotiations on a contract that will be imposed on them."
David A. Schwarz, Gerawan's attorney, stated: "California law requires public access to judicial, legislative, and administrative proceedings alike. The ALRB is not exempt from these requirements."
The California Supreme Court has recognized that "Openness in government is essential to the functioning of a democracy," and granting the public access to observe the government's actions "permits checks against the arbitrary exercise of official power and secrecy in the political process." Int'l Fed'n Of Prof'l & Technical Eng'rs, Local 21, AFL-CIO v. Superior Court, 42 Cal. 4th 319, 328-29 (2007).
The California Constitution states that, "The people have a right to access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business, and, therefore, the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny."
As stated in Gerawan's letter to the Board, there is no "constitutional-carve out" that bars Mr. Garcia, the press, or the public from exercising this right. "The Board chose secrecy by refusing to act."
The Board's decision to deny the workers a right to attend the proceedings follows a Board ruling that compelled Gerawan Farming into compulsory arbitration with the UFW, under the so-called "Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation" ("MMC") law. Under this law, the ALRB may impose wages, terms and conditions of employment on thousands of Gerawan workers and the company itself. The terms of this "agreement" are decided by a single arbitrator.
A Fresno County Superior Court judge has already ruled, in response to a Gerawan lawsuit, that parts of the MMC law barring judicial review violate the California Constitution. Gerawan Farming, Inc. v. Agric. Labor Relations Bd., Case No. 13 CE CG 01408, Order dated June 19, 2013.
Gerawan has additional constitutional challenges to the MMC process pending.
To see the letter to the ALRB in its entirety, please go to http://prima.com/news/.
SOURCE Gerawan Farming, Inc.