Despite opposition from farmers, the Senate Rules Committee approved the appointment of former state Sen. Isadore Hall to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board Wednesday with a 3-0 vote.
Hall’s appointment moves on to the full Senate, which must confirm him through a majority vote. The five-member board considers cases related to unfair labor practices and oversees collective bargaining rights for the industry.
The Western Growers Association and other organizations representing farmers opposed Hall’s appointment. The farmers have called Hall a “staunch” supporter of the United Farm Workers and said his involvement with the union as a state senator represents a conflict of interest.
Hall pledged to his former Senate colleagues that he would work objectively and vote without bias.
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“The way I worked with each and every one of you – fairness, open door policy, being able to be objective, being able to sit down and have a conversation, whether we agree or disagree, being able to bring some balance to decisions and bringing compromise,” Hall said. “It’s that same type of leadership, that I applied here, that I will be applying at the board.”
More than a dozen United Farm Workers and others spoke in support of Hall.
Much of the opposition centered on a long-running labor dispute between Gerawan Farms and the UFW. The farm says the agricultural board allowed its workers to hold an election to decertify the UFW as their union. The farm, one of the largest peach growers in the country, says the board then “refused to release the results of the election to the public.”
About two dozen people in blue “Pick Justice” shirts spoke out against Hall’s appointment and identified themselves as workers or former workers of Gerawan Farms.
The group promoted a video on social media asking what a former state senator who grew up in Compton knows about the agriculture industry. The video also implied that the United Farm Workers has stacked the agricultural board with members who support their cause.
Anthony Raimondo, a labor attorney from Fresno who represents Gerawan farmworkers, said that similar to a judge, a board member should avoid bias and the appearance of bias. He held up a picture of Hall marching with the UFW.
“This is Mr. Hall injecting himself into the dispute at Gerawan Farms, taking a side, planting a sign and waving it for the UFW in direct opposition to these workers that I represent,” he said.
Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Modesto, defended Hall early in the hearing. He called him a friend and expressed confidence that he would act objectively.
“He’s always been fair to me,” Cannella said. “He’s always had an open door.”
Cannella, who said farmers in his district had reservations about Hall, later declined to vote on the confirmation. Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, voted for the appointment. The fifth member of the rules committee, Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, did not attend.
Hall served in the Senate from 2014 to 2016 and in the Assembly from 2008 to 2014. He voted in favor of California’s historic farmworker overtime law last year that grants agricultural workers the same right to overtime pay as most other California workers.
Gov. Jerry Brown tapped Hall for the position after he lost a congressional bid last year to fellow Democrat, Rep. Nanette Barragán. The seat on the agricultural board pays $142,095 a year.
The rules committee also approved Julia Montgomery as general counsel of the board. Brown appointed Montgomery last year. She previously worked at the Department of Fair Employment and Housing and as an attorney for the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.